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    With its top editor abruptly gone, The Washington Post grapples with a hastily announced restructure


    NEW YORK — The struggling Washington Post found itself in some turmoil on Monday following the abrupt departure of the newspaper’s executive editor and a hastily announced restructuring plan aimed at stopping an exodus of readers over the past few years.

    Post publisher Will Lewis and Matt Murray, a former Wall Street Journal editor named to temporarily replace Sally Buzbee, met with reporters and editors at the Post on Monday to explain changes that had been outlined in a Sunday night email.

    The plan includes splitting the newsroom into three separate divisions with managers who report to Lewis — one that encompasses the Post’s core news reporting, one with opinion pieces and the third devoted to attracting new consumers through innovative uses of social media, video, artificial intelligence and sales.

    Although Murray is temporarily replacing Buzbee through the November presidential election, the eventual plan places no one in the role of an executive editor who oversees the entire newsroom. Buzbee was said to disagree with the plan and chose to leave rather than be put in 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 definitely kind of blindsided people,” said Paul Farhi, a recently retired media reporter at the Post. “But it shows you that Will Lewis is working out of a sense of crisis and urgency. He’s only been there five months and he’s making gigantic changes to the newsroom.”

    Like most news organizations, the Post has lost readers — a decline more acute because the Washington-based outlet boomed with the interest in politics during the Trump administration. The Post’s website had 101 million unique visitors a month in 2020, and had dropped to 50 million at the end of 2023. The Post lost a reported $77 million last year.

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

    Lewis told staff members on Monday that “I’m not interested in managing decline. I’m interested in growth,” according to a person who attended the meeting. The new publisher also bluntly told staffers that “people are not reading your stuff. We need to take decisive action.”

    The new division designed to attract new customers — the Post called it a “third newsroom” — is steeped in some mystery. While the Post at one time headquartered the people running its digital products in a separate building, for several years it has integrated that and social media into the regular newsroom, as have many organizations. It’s hard to predict how the new structure will work, and there are likely to be changes as they are put in place, Sullivan said.

    “Maybe it’s brilliant and innovative,” she said. “But it just strikes me as being odd.”

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

    “It feels so retro — reminiscent of search engine optimization, social media and pivoting to video, just as AI and agents threaten to become a new web,” said Jeff Jarvis, Jarvis, author of “The Gutenberg Parenthesis: The Age of Print and its Lessons for the Age of the Internet.”

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

    There was some concern expressed by Post staff members about three men — all of them new to a newspaper that takes some pride in journalists working their way up through the ranks and two of them British-born — being in charge at a crucial time.

    “In a few months, two British-born editors will be running the leading newspaper in the capital of the United States,” Farhi said. “It was kind of unimaginable a couple of months ago.”

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

    Lewis was also questioned about his commitment to diversity after the first woman to be the editor in charge of the Post has left. He said he was committed to it “and you’ll see it going forward,” according to the person at the meeting.

    Lewis has said that the Post will be experimenting with different pay tiers for digital subscriptions, for people who may be interested in particular topics or stories instead of the entire package, similar to products offered by Politico, for example. As editor, Buzbee has been beefing up the Post’s coverage on topics like cooking and climate that appeal to particular readers.

    Lewis has talked about searching for ways to reach millions of Americans who want to keep informed but don’t feel like traditional news products serve their needs.

    In one sense, efforts to make organizations like the Post and the Times more attractive to subscribers may contribute to the trends hurting local news, Farhi said. As the newspapers seek out more national and international customers, he said, they are much less likely to invest in covering local news.

    ___

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





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