With the abrupt departure of its editor-in-chief, The Washington Post is struggling with a hastily announced restructuring

NEW YORK — The struggling Washington Post found itself in some turmoil Monday after the crisis abrupt departure of the newspaper's editor-in-chief and a hastily announced restructuring plan aimed at halting an exodus of readers in recent years.

Post publisher Will Lewis and Matt Murray, a former Wall Street Journal editor who will temporarily replace Sally Buzbee, met with Post reporters and editors on Monday to explain the changes outlined in a Sunday evening email.

The plan includes splitting the newsroom into three separate divisions with managers reporting to Lewis – one covering the Post's core news reporting, one with op-eds and the third dedicated to attracting new consumers through innovative uses of social media, video, artificial intelligence and sales.

Although Murray will temporarily replace Buzbee during the November presidential election, the final plan does not place anyone in the role of an executive editor overseeing the entire newsroom. Buzbee was said to have disagreed with the plan and chose to leave rather than take charge of one of the divisions. the Post reported.

Lewis was not made available for an interview Monday and Buzbee did not immediately return a message.

“It was definitely kind of blindsided people,” said Paul Farhi, a recently retired media reporter at the Post. 'But you show it Will Lewis works from a sense of crisis and urgency. He has only been there for five months and is making huge changes in the newsroom.”

Like most news organizations, the Post has lost readers — a decline made more acute as the Washington-based news organization boomed on interest in politics during the Trump administration. The Post's website had 101 million unique visitors per month in 2020, dropping to 50 million by the end of 2023. Last year, The Post reportedly lost $77 million.

“Although (Post owner) Jeff Bezos is very wealthy, it has been my observation that billionaires do not like to lose money,” said Margaret Sullivan, a former Post columnist and now executive director of the Craig Newmark Center for Journalism Ethics and Security at the Columbia Journalism School.

Lewis told employees on Monday: “I am not interested in controlling the decline. I am interested in growth,” said one participant at the meeting. The new publisher also bluntly told the staff that “people don't read your stuff. We must take decisive action.”

The new division designed to attract new customers — the Post called it a “third newsroom” — is steeped in mystery. While the Post once housed the headquarters of the people who managed its digital products in a separate building, the company has been integrating these media and social media into its regular newsroom for several years, as have many other organizations. It's difficult to predict how the new structure will work, and changes are likely to occur as they are implemented, Sullivan said.

“Maybe it's brilliant and innovative,” she said. “But it just seems strange to me.”

There are important questions surrounding the restructuring — including suggestions that dividing the newsroom into three parts could cause fragmentation of the Post's overall news coverage. Will separation into different units hinder the kind of collaboration that creates fluid multiplatform journalism?

“It feels so retro – it's reminiscent of search engine optimization, social media and the move to video, just as AI and agents threaten to become a new web,” says Jeff Jarvis, Jarvis, author of “The Gutenberg Parenthesis: The Age of Print and its lessons for the internet age.”

Murray will be in charge of this division after the election. After that, Robert Winnett, a longtime editor at the Telegraph in England who worked with Lewis there, will take over key reporting duties at the Post, the newspaper said.

Some concern was expressed by Post staff about three men – all new to a newspaper that prides itself on having journalists work their way up its ranks, and two of them of British descent – ​​taking the reins at a crucial time to get.

“Within a few months, two British-born editors will lead the leading newspaper in the capital of the United States,” Farhi said. “A few months ago that was unthinkable.”

They won't be alone. Other US-based news organizations with British-born leaders included The Wall Street Journal, with editor-in-chief Emma Tukker; CNN, with chairman and CEO Mark Thompson; and The Associated Press, with Daisy Veerasingham as president and CEO.

Lewis was also asked about his commitment to diversity after the Post's first woman editor left. He said he is committed to it “and you will see it in the future,” according to the person at the meeting.

Lewis has said the Post will experiment with different payment levels for digital subscriptions, for people who might be interested in certain topics or stories rather than the entire package, similar to products offered by Politico, for example. As editor, Buzbee has amplified the Post's coverage of topics like cooking and climate that appeal to certain readers.

Lewis has talked about finding ways to reach millions of Americans who want to stay informed but don't feel like traditional news products are meeting their needs.

In some ways, efforts to make organizations like the Post and the Times more attractive to subscribers may be contributing to the trends that are hurting local news, Farhi said. As newspapers seek more national and international customers, they are much less likely to invest in local news.

___

David Bauder writes about media for The Associated Press. Follow him up http://twitter.com/dbauder.

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