On Tuesday, The Washington Post announced they would offer voluntary buyouts to staff with a goal of reducing staff by 240, less than 10% of the company’s workforce. Staff were notified by interim CEO Patty Stonesifer via email that the company’s projections for subscription and advertising revenue and traffic over the past two years were unrealistically optimistic. Reducing the legacy media outlet’s headcount is one way to reduce costs which may help the company avoid layoffs.
“The urgent need to invest in our top growth priorities brought us to the difficult conclusion that we need to adjust our cost structure now,” Stonesifer wrote in the staff email. “We are working to find ways to return our business to a healthier place in the coming year.”
The Post would offer voluntary buyouts to certain jobs and departments, but Stonesifer didn’t not say which ones. Eligible employees were to receive more information at an all-staff meeting on October 11, and they would have a few weeks to accept or decline the separation package. Stonesifer said that a much larger group of employees would receive the voluntary buyout offer, but they would cap the number of offers accepted at around 240 people.
Company spokesperson Kathy Baird said in a statement that the buyouts will help The Post start 2024 strong, though it was still difficult for them to think of long-time employees leaving at the end of the year when the original plan was to maintain staff size or even grow it in 2023.
Washington Post Guild speaks out
The Washington Post Guild took to social media platform X to share their distress over the decision to offer the voluntary buyouts, effectively cutting staff and commenting that the layoffs earlier this year were “unjustified.”
“It feels especially egregious when our colleagues are in the midst of covering and delivering urgent + unrelenting news from around the world, including two wars, a presidential election, assaults on American democracy, the growing climate catastrophe + an affordable housing crisis,” the Guild said on X.
Layoffs in first quarter of 2023
Earlier this year, The Post reduced newsroom roles by 50 positions including 20 staffers who were laid off. The layoffs were first announced in December. Fred Ryan, who was the CEO and publisher at that time,” said the company needed to expand “high priority coverage areas” and stop investing resources in initiatives that weren’t important to their subscribers. Ryan also said he thought new jobs would offset job losses, and he thought the company’s rebalancing would better align their investments with their strategies and goals.
“The Washington Post is evolving and transforming to put our business in the best position for future growth. We are planning to direct our resources and invest in coverage, products, and people in service of providing high value to our subscribers and new audiences,” said Kathy Baird, chief communications officer for The Washington Post, in an emailed statement, as reported by Poynter. “As a result, a number of positions will be eliminated. We anticipate it will be a single-digit percentage of our employee base, and we will finalize those plans over the coming weeks.”
Despite recent layoffs, the Washington Post is still looking for ways to cut costs. The “easy” choice (for management) is to cut staff by offering voluntary buyouts, but is that the right choice? We agree with the Washington Post Guild that this is a critical time when good, quality reporting is more important than ever. There are so many major news stories breaking daily, and The Post will be less equipped to cover them. This is not only heartbreaking for those accepting the buyouts who have built their careers at The Post, but also those staff who will have to try to fill the gaps for the same compensation. The Post could lose its competitive advantage while reducing its head count. Isn’t there another way?
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