Oct 18, 2023 - News
Town Talker

Washington Post buyouts hit local coverage

The Washington Post's front entrance

The Post's K Street HQ. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

Ever since Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post in 2013, the Amazon founder chased global expansion, yet kept the newspaper's level of local coverage steady. Until now.

Why it matters: The paper of record for the Beltway is retreating on local news through voluntary buyouts that cement Bezos' strategy for worldwide growth, as opposed to adding more eyes on the Loudoun County school board or Metro's latest foibles.

What's happening: Company-wide, the Post aims to eliminate 240 jobs, interim CEO Patty Stonesifer told staff last Tuesday, citing overspending. The cuts are expected to roughly split evenly between the newsroom and business sides.

  • The company is on track to lose $100 million this year, as the entire media sector struggles with an advertising slowdown.

The buyouts would trim nearly a quarter of the 89-person metro section.

  • The local transportation, education, and social issues teams are bracing for the deepest cuts.
  • Some of them are metro positions that through the Bezos years morphed into covering issues like poverty or higher education in a national context.

The other side: "We expect to have a smaller Metro staff, focused more exclusively on strong local coverage," executive editor Sally Buzbee said in a newsroom note last week.

Between the lines: It's the end of an era for local Posties with the promotion of metro editor Mike Semel, whose nearly decade-long term included a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

  • There is no heir apparent for Semel, who soon becomes a deputy managing editor. (As a strong incubator for young talent, Posties called metro "Mike Semel University.")

The big picture: The Post has fallen further behind its rival the New York Times. The Post's paid digital subscriber count declined after peaking at 3 million during the Trump years. The Times is near 10 million.

  • The Post, which recently invested heavily in wellness and climate coverage, is playing catch up on the sort of lifestyle offerings that have diversified the business of the Times, which has doubled down on offerings including cooking recipes, home appliance reviews, and Wordle.
  • The Post is searching for a permanent CEO after Fred Ryan stepped down earlier this year.

Thought bubble: I've heard rumblings internally intensify over the past year because of the lack of investment in the Post metro section. Through it all, the desk produced groundbreaking journalism, which makes the future staff reductions worrisome.

💭 Earlier this year, I bumped into Don Graham. Did the man who sold the business to Bezos worry about the state of metro? "It's not any of my business," Graham told me. Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics and power. Democracy dies when people don't send reporters tips; please do: [email protected].

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