Washington Post staffers clash with CEO at all-hands meeting after top editor exits: ‘Get with the program’

Washington Post staffers grilled the newspaper’s new CEO and publisher Will Lewis during a tense all-hands meeting — less than 24 hours after executive editor Sally Buzbee stepped down.

Buzbee — the paper’s first female executive editor in its 144-year history — exited after a three-year tenure that was marred by deteriorating finances and readership, with the last year recording more than $70 million in losses and audience declines of 50% since 2020.

The sharp-elbowed Lewis, British-born media exec, who joined the paper last November, had clashed with Buzbee in recent months over his aggressive plan to carve up the newsroom and Buzbee’s oversight, which pushed the editor to resign Sunday, according to reports.

Sally Buzbee (center) abruptly resigned from the paper on Sunday. The Washington Post via Getty Images

Lewis highlighted the flagging readership and financials as central to the changes, telling staffers, “you’re going to thank me when you see what it’s like to produce world-class journalism,” according to a source who paraphrased his comments.

“The tone was blaming the newsroom for the losses — like that was why there has to be a new team,” the source griped. “You can imagine how people feel about that.”

By the end of the meeting, a source said Lewis’ overall message was for staffers to just “get with the program” without spelling out the potential consequence.

At the all-hands meeting, Lewis introduced Buzbee’s temporary replacement, Matt Murray — the former editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal. Lewis, who had worked with Murray at The Journal, said the 58-year-old editor will helm the newsroom through the election and then transition to run a new division focused on service and social media journalism.

Robert Winnett, another friend of Lewis and fellow Brit who did stints at The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph — and who gained notoriety for coverage of an expenses scandal in UK Parliament that cost numerous MPs their jobs — will take over the newsroom after that.

CEO and publisher Will Lewis introduced Buzbee’s replacement at a town hall meeting Monday, and was grilled by staffers over the changes. AP

A newsroom source said the hour-long meeting, which included a Q&A portion, ruffled feathers with journalists who wondered why Lewis had not formally initiated a search process for Buzbee’s job — implying that he instead just hired friends and former colleagues.

“There was a question about the search process for Matt and there was just no answer,” a source at the meeting told The Post.

Privately, staff questioned exactly how Winnett will be obtain a US visa for his new role. American employers generally have to show they cannot find an American qualified for the role before offering a job to a foreign national, although there are other ways for Winnett to obtain permission to work for the Post.

A rep for The Washington Post declined to comment.

Although Washington DC-based publication has struggled under Buzbee it has won six Pulitzer Prizes, including three last month.

Executive editor Buzbee resigned amid clashes with CEO and publisher Lewis over the reorganization of the newsroom. Getty Images

The New York Times reported Monday that star political reporter Ashley Parker pointedly questioned Lewis during the meeting on his hiring practices and the lip service he had paid to raising diversity in the newsroom.

The three editorial leaders, Murray, Winnett, and opinion editor David Shipley, are all white men.

“When you were here before, you talked very movingly about how you care about diversity — and people talk about diversity — but then when push comes to shove, they say, ‘Well, I looked around and I couldn’t find anyone,’” Parker said.

In response, Murray said that diversity would be a “constant commitment” at the paper, adding that he had “the most diverse masthead that The Journal had ever had” during his years at Dow Jones, the publisher of The Journal, according to the Times.

Matt Murray, the former editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, will fill in as executive editor until the election and then he will helm a new division at The Washington Post. Getty Images for The Wall Street Journal

A source who was at the meeting echoed Parker’s concern, noting that Lewis cannot “expect to bring in new readers” when he’s “abolished all diversity from the leadership.”

In recent months, it became clear that Buzbee did not see eye to eye with Lewis, who was brought in to turnaround the flailing newspaper and revamp the organization.

According to The Times, on Sunday night, moments after Lewis informed staffers that Buzbee was out, the editor led a call with managers to explain why she was leaving.

She told them that a new organizational structure created by Lewis, which split The Post’s newsroom into three smaller divisions, didn’t work for her.

Lewis said in a recent town hall that the publication had more than $70 million in losses over the last year and audience declines of 50% over the same period. AFP via Getty Images

“I would have preferred to stay to help us get through this period, but it just got to the point where it wasn’t possible,” Buzbee said, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.

Buzbee chafed at Lewis’ strategy, which included dividing the newsroom into news, opinon and a third new division focused on service and social media journalism.

The duo had “reached an impasse” with the CEO offering the editor the ability to run two of the three newsroom divisions, which was still an effective demotion.

Buzbee, who opted to step down instead, told managers to reserve judgment on Lewis’ aggressive turnaround plan, The Times reported.

At a prior town hall meeting two weeks ago, Lewis revealed a list of priorities for the newspaper that included “build it,” “fix it” and “say it,” The Times reported.

A newsroom source said that Lewis’ priorities didn’t seem concrete and that the shakeup has left staffers wondering how things will turn around.

“There just seemed to be no real answers,” the source said.

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