Staffers at The Washington Post are livid at publisher Fred Ryan.
That’s according to conversations I had on Wednesday with nearly a dozen employees at The Post who expressed fury at the way Ryan announced in a town hall that the company would undergo layoffs in early 2023. Ryan said that the layoffs would only amount to a single-digit percentage of the workforce and that the overall size of the company would not shrink, given there would be reinvestments in other areas. But none of that quelled outrage from staffers.
The staffers at The Post, who were already seeking answers over the way their colleagues who worked on the now-canceled Sunday magazine were summarily let go late last month, were aghast at the way Ryan conducted himself in the town hall, they told me. “He does this whole dog and pony show about how things are going great and then drops at the end that he’s gong to cut the workforce — and then he refuses to take questions,” one staffer told me.
Video posted on Twitter by national reporter Annie Gowen showed Ryan walk off stage as staffers peppered him with questions. Instead of answering the queries from his startled and anxious employees, Ryan told them that he would not “turn the town hall into a grievance session.” In a blistering statement, The Washington Post Guild fired back at Ryan, describing his refusal to take questions as “unacceptable” behavior “from any leader,” but “especially the leader of a news organization whose core values include transparency and accountability.”
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Of course, the news of the layoffs comes amid a horrible backdrop for the media industry at large. In recent weeks, CNN has laid off hundreds of staffers, Gannett has cut 200 staffers, NPR has said it needs to find $10 million in savings, and other organizations have implemented moves to slash costs.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to notify a workforce about a future layoff — and what I heard throughout the day is that staffers at The Post believed Ryan handled it horrendously. In fact, I haven’t spoken to a single person at The Post yet who has gone to bat for the publisher.
Ryan alienated the newsroom to such an extent that a number of high-profile reporters who had previously not joined The Guild decided that they would do so on Wednesday. Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Shane Harris, Bob Barnes, Jose Del Real, John Woodrow Cox, and John Hudson told the union they wanted in, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Ryan’s conduct is also not helping Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, who already had to deal with an out-of-control newsroom over the summer when high-profile employees were feuding with each other. Buzbee indicated to staffers on Wednesday that she had only learned about the layoff situation the night before. (A spokesperson for The Post said that she “has been fully engaged in our ongoing transformation efforts.”) After the town hall, Buzbee held a meeting with some staffers in which she was grilled about the impending cuts. Buzbee said that she did not know if owner Jeff Bezos had played a role.
Regardless of who was responsible for the business decision, the manner in which it was communicated to the approximately 2,500 employees at The Post has torpedoed newsroom morale. Ryan seemingly tried later in the day to assuage concerns, sending a follow-up all-staff email in which he said that he recognized information about layoffs “will understandably generate a great deal of uncertainty across our organization.” But that email didn’t seem to improve his standing inside the newsroom.
“The mood is really grim,” one staffer candidly told me. “People are just so livid right now. It’s bad. Just bad.”