Reporters at The Washington Post wanted answers about major job cuts during a contentious one-hour meeting Wednesday with top brass.
The paper announced on Tuesday that it would be offering buyouts, with the aim to cut 240 jobs from the newsroom. But management offered little clarity about who would be affected or why the cuts were necessary.
A day later, Post journalists pressed their interim CEO on why their jobs were on the chopping block, with reporter and Guild president Katie Mettler telling Stonesifer she was frustrated by reporters “bearing the consequences of very poor decisions” made by management.
Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer told staffers that “this is a really good business that we overshot on expenses,” according to sources in the meeting.
In a session that grew testy between leadership and staff, Stonesifer outlined the dismal roadmap that led the Post to its decision to offer voluntary buyouts. The goal was to minimize losses, she told staffers, but her explanations did little to assuage concerns from reporters that leadership had missed the mark on growing the Post.
The Post did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
Stonesifer said the buyouts would be roughly split between its editorial staff and other departments. The paper’s struggles to grow its subscriber base and readership necessitated the buyouts, she said: Its subscription numbers have fallen by 15 percent since 2021, while its audience numbers were down by nearly 30 percent. Print revenue and digital advertising revenue were also down by 10 and 30 percent, respectively. The paper hopes to eventually reach 3-3.5 million subscribers from its current 2.5 million base.
Employees who have been at the Post for less than three years will be offered six months of base pay along with six months of payments to a COBRA account. Employees with longer service will see payments increase by three to six months, with those at the Post for 15 years or more capping out at 24 months of base pay along with 12 months of COBRA payments, according to a PowerPoint outlining the terms. The company’s pension plan would fund the payments, she said.
Those eligible for the buyouts would receive emails on Wednesday and the buyouts would take effect on Dec. 31, Stonesifer said. The emails would not come from the company’s contentious head of human resources, Wayne Connell, as he was on vacation. That disclosure led to laughter in the room, according to multiple sources.
Despite the current measures to rein in costs, Stonesifer couldn’t definitively say more job cuts wouldn’t come. “We can’t promise that there won’t be layoffs,” she said.
Staffers grew agitated at this news, with reporters such as Valerie Strauss and Josh Dawsey pressing Stonesifer on management’s alleged lack of transparency and pointing to prior promises from former publisher Fred Ryan and Stonesifer herself that there wouldn’t be layoffs for the rest of the year. “Why should we believe any of the company’s assurances?” Dawsey said.
Stonesifer said she made a mistake in committing to that, and Dawsey questioned her on why the Post leadership’s economic projections were off.
“I wish I really knew the answer,” Stonesifer said, choosing not to “unpack” the past leadership’s decision-making. Ryan left in August.
Stonesifer was also asked about owner Jeff Bezos’ involvement in the cost-cutting process. Stonesifer promised he was engaged and committed to the Post, but she said he didn’t ask for the buyouts. “He is an investor owner,” she said.
The paper is still outlining its vision for 2024 and beyond, Stonesifer said, with plans to install a permanent CEO by the end of the year. The buyouts are meant to cut its current losses—about $100 million for 2023, according to The New York Times—by 50 percent, she said, conceding that the paper had overinvested in its initiatives.
“This business did not tank,” Stonesifer said, “we overspent.”