The Washington Post is reportedly “on pace to lose money this year” after years of profitability during the Trump era.
Following the constant news cycle during the Trump presidency, business at the “Democracy Dies in Darkness” paper’s business has stalled so much so that their “5 by 25” initiative to reach five million digital subscribers by 2025 may be out of reach, sources told The New York Times.
“The organization is on track to lose money in 2022, after years of profitability, according to two people with knowledge of the company’s finances,” the Times wrote Tuesday. “The Post now has fewer than the three million paying digital subscribers it had hailed internally near the end of 2020, according to several people at the organization. Digital ad revenue generated by The Post fell to roughly $70 million during the first half of the year, about 15 percent lower than in the first half of 2021, according to an internal financial document reviewed by The New York Times.”
Sources allege to the Times that Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan, who was hired by the paper’s owner Jeff Bezos, “floated… the possibility of cutting 100 positions” in the newsroom, potentially in the form of “hiring freezes.”
The Post told the Times that the paper not only is not reducing head count but may expand the newsroom and “exploring positions that should be repurposed to serve a larger, national and global audience.” According to the Times, the spokesperson “said the document showing ad revenue declines depicted an incomplete picture of The Post’s business, but she declined to detail how.”
The Times alleged the financial downturn has fueled “frustration internally” with top executives “concerned” that Ryan “hasn’t moved decisively enough to expand coverage” and that under his leadership, marketing efforts were being halted.
“Mr. Ryan’s focus on productivity and office attendance in the newsroom has also been a source of tension. He has expressed his belief to members of his leadership team that there were numerous low performers in the newsroom who needed to be managed out,” the Times wrote. “He has monitored how many staff members come into the office, and has weighed new measures to compel people to return to work, including threats of firings, several people at The Post said.”
Ryan has reportedly “expressed annoyance” with Post leaders about the apparent lack of productivity, noticing how fewer meetings took place on Fridays as one measurement. The publisher “has also grown increasingly frustrated” that Post staffers have not been working from the office at least three days per week, a policy rolled out by the paper earlier this year following the pandemic.
“In recent weeks, Mr. Ryan asked for disciplinary letters to be drafted and sent to employees who had not made any appearance in the office this year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions,” the Times wrote. “He ultimately decided that the letters should not be sent, and that the people should be called instead. The Post spokeswoman said Mr. Ryan welcomed employee input on the return-to-office policy.”
Some employees, according to the Times, have pushed back against Ryan, stressing about the “grave concerns” about the return-to-work policy in a letter sent to him, writing “Such decisions are extremely personal and consequential… and we urge management to allow employees to make these decisions without fear of punishment from their employer.”
Executives at The Post have mulled over buying other news organizations including “The Associated Press, The Economist and The Guardian,” sources told The Times, and that Ryan has prioritized the paper’s ability to “covering new areas rather than acquiring rivals.”
The report also claims that Bezos has been more hands-off in recent years, going from having a “regular presence” at the Post before the pandemic to rolling back from what used to be his ever-other-week Zoom calls, which became “less frequent” but that he’s “still engaged, however, weighing in during budgeting season and participating in calls.” The Post spokesperson told the Times it is “absolutely false” to suggest Bezos is less interested in the paper.
A spokesperson for the Post declined to further comment.