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‘Game is up’ at Brit-run WaPo: Diversity sent to back of bus; AI to help drive ‘3rd newsroom’

Interim executive editor Matt Murray takes over for Sally Buzbee at The Washington Post.
by WorldTribune Staff, June 5, 2024 Contract With Our Readers

Losing millions and with its audience cut in half, The Washington Post made some major changes at the top of its editorial staff which like other major American newspapers will subsequently be headed by British newsmen.

The moves included a new interim executive editor and the formation of a "3rd newsroom" which would focus on video storytelling, would use AI, and have different subscriber models.

Charlotte Klein of Vanity Fair noted that new interim executive editor Matt Murray met with staff Monday with British Publisher Will Lewis following the abrupt exit of Sally Buzbee, who had led the paper since May 2021.

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At one point on Monday, Klein noted that Lewis was asked whether he was intentionally bringing in people who come from a different culture than the Post.

“We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore,” Lewis said. “So I’ve had to take decisive, urgent action to set us on a different path, sourcing talent that I have worked with that are the best of the best.”

Murray, who previously led The Wall Street Journal, will replace Buzbee as executive editor through the presidential election, at which point, Robert Winnett, a veteran of the UK’s Telegraph Media Group, will take on the new role of editor. Murray will move over to the “3rd newsroom” which will run separately from the core news operation.

Critics say it was the newspaper's laser-like focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion that led to its loss of audience. Monday's staff meeting only seemed to reinforce that criticism.

One reporter asked Lewis whether "any women or people or color were interviewed and seriously considered for either of these positions."

Others questioned why Murray was brought on board when that created a scenario where, as one reporter put it, "we now have four white men running three newsrooms."

Previously, Lewis had told staffers: "We highlighted the need to move away from the traditional one-size-fits-all approach in the news media industry and focus on creating news for a broader range of readers and customers."

That set off trigger warnings.

One staffer said on Monday: "Don't we need brilliant social journalists and service journalists as embedded in our core product to make sure that people are actually reading the thing that's at the center of the mission of the Washington Post?"

Lewis responded: "You haven't done it. I've listened to the platitudes. Honestly, it's just not happening."

“So we’re just going to give up on—” he was asked.

“No, I want you to be inspired,” Lewis said. “It’s the most important thing: untapped audiences. If what I cause to happen is you all get it, great, but the game is up.”

Klein noted that Lewis had explained to staff that the news of the shakeup “began to leak out, which is why we had to scramble last night.”

Klein reported that she "learned that The New York Times was chasing a story on Buzbee’s potential resignation, and the Post didn’t want to get scooped. Hence the 8:40 p.m. staff memo from Lewis announcing that Buzbee would be stepping down."

Klein cited two sources close to the situations as saying senior editors close to Buzbee didn’t know the news was coming. “We found out on a Sunday evening in an email. That’s not how well-functioning companies announce major personnel news,” one staffer told Klein.

During the Monday meeting, Lewis said, “We need world-class journalism every single day, and the people that are coming in to help us do that will be a real benefit to the organization.” He said he “really enjoyed working with Sally” and “wish[ed] it could have gone on for longer, but it couldn’t.” As far as diversity goes, Lewis admitted “it’s not great” and vowed to do better going forward.

Lewis, the former Dow Jones chief executive and Journal publisher, has been bringing his own people into other parts of the company since he was named CEO and publisher last year.

Lewis also worked with Winnett at the UK’s The Sunday Times and, in 2007, hired him at The Daily Telegraph, the right-leaning British paper that Lewis, himself, was recently looking to purchase along with investors. Winnett, Lewis wrote Sunday, will oversee “our core coverage areas, including politics, investigations, business, technology, sports and features.”

By the end of the year, the Post will become yet another American newsroom — along with The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Bloomberg News — run by a British news executive.

“The fact that Will Lewis keeps going to his network rather than plucking Washington Post leadership implies that he finds everyone lacking, and I think that’s kind of the most disturbing thing,” a second staffer told Klein.

According to The New York Times, Buzbee told colleagues on a Sunday night call that Lewis was pushing for aggressive changes at the paper, and she “would have preferred to stay to help us get through this period, but it just got to the point where it wasn’t possible.”

“I don’t think she deserved to go out this way,” the first staffer told me, noting that in conversations with their colleagues, people “don’t feel good about the fact that the first female executive editor of The Washington Post got a one paragraph goodbye note at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and that she’s being replaced by more white men we don’t know.”

Klein added: "That one paragraph featured praise from Lewis, who called Buzbee 'an incredible leader and a supremely talented media executive.' Though, notably, Buzbee isn’t quoted herself."

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