The Washington Post Guild is currently in negotiations with the paper’s management over a new contract. The union wants fair pay raises, more than the current 1 percent 401(K) matching, and more robust family leave. But while it remains to be seen whether brass will meet those demands, on Thursday management offered workers a heretofore unthinkable benefit: free coffee, for the first time ever.
For years, if Washington Post employees wanted coffee, they had to pay for it themselves. Multiple current and former Post employees confirm that the publication didn’t offer any free java at its offices.
“I was pretty shocked that we didn’t have free coffee,” says Niraj Chokshi, a reporter at the Post from 2013 to 2016 who now works for the New York Times. “Journalists stereotypically run on caffeine—you would think one of the major American newspapers would have caffeine.”
Washingtonian asked for comment from the Post about their lack of free coffee last Friday, and Kristine Coratti Kelly, The Post’s VP of communications and events, said that she would provide a response in a week’s time.
That answer appears to have come to the newsroom a bit early: On Thursday evening, Post employees found coffee mugs on their desks with flyers announcing that “FREE COFFEE IS HERE!”
“Starting today, you can fuel up with assorted coffees, hot chocolate, and tea in the kitchen on every floor,” the flyers read. “We will also be providing sweeteners and creamers—all you have to do is bring a cup.”
Before the announcement, the current Post offices did have coffee makers, mind you. They were Keurig machines, and workers had to bring in their own k-cups. Other staffers crowdsourced by sharing coffee machines or french presses at their desks.
Posties could also find coffee through the #leftovers Slack channel (perhaps most famous for the role it played in the life of Old Bae, a crab whose demise employees captured on the online messaging system).
People often purchased large containers of coffee for meetings, and if there was any leftover, folks would post about it in the #leftovers channel. “Someone will say there’s leftover coffee and it’s a mad run to the fourth floor or wherever to get the dregs of their coffee,” says the current reporter.
A Post engineer for the past few years, who asked not to be named, also mentioned the #leftovers channel as a source of caffeine and other goodies. “There’s kind of a lot of scavenging that goes on. It’s institutionalized at this point.”
Coffee-wise, the Washington Post was an outlier among DC media companies. Some newer journalism outlets in DC offer all kinds of edible perks. Vox Media, for instance, has avocados, almonds, and yogurt among its many gratis food and drink options. Washingtonian has chugged by in recent years with a Flavia machine that offers tea and hot chocolate as well as coffee whose caffeine content is a subject of vigorous debate among staffers. My previous employer, DCist, benefited from beverages that included endless La Colombe coffee and nitro cold coffee provided by its office space supplier, WeWork.
“You don’t need free food, but free coffee seems very much the DC standard,” says the current Post reporter.
While Post owner and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos is known for workplace frugality—Amazon’s Seattle offices don’t offer any snacks, either—the lack of free coffee existed long before he purchased the paper in 2013.
Marty Weil, a reporter at the Washington Post for more than 50 years, says he doesn’t remember a time when coffee was free at the paper. “You know coffee has a smell,” he says. “Never recall smelling it in the newsroom. In my observation, the Post culture is not a coffee culture.”
Weil is not a coffee drinker himself. “Confession: I subsist on diet soda,” he says.
But many other employees have been clamoring for free coffee in the office. The Post engineer says that the issue has come up at all-hands staff meetings. “It’s almost an inside joke at this point,” the engineer says.
The flyer provided to employees on Thursday says that “we heard you loud and clear in the Pulse Survey and at recent Town Halls.”
Chokshi says the New York Times has free coffee, and in fact has recently upgraded its machines. But to him, the question of whether the lack of free coffee at the Post made employees less productive wasn’t cut and dry.
“I would have been at my desk more, for sure,” he says. “But I am a big proponent of taking quality breaks, and I think walking to the coffee machine is not a quality break.”
Nearby purveyors like Paul and Starbucks offer Post employees discounts on coffee negotiated by the paper’s human resources department.
Not everyone made the trek, though. The engineer says he’s ended up drinking more energy drinks than he might otherwise, because he can buy them at a vending machine inside the office. “Engineers run on caffeine,” he says. “We can’t not have it.”
The current reporter likes journeying outside the office for an energy fix. “The health benefits of getting up in the middle of the day and walking a few blocks are probably more beneficial than being able to have all the coffee you want,” says the reporter. “It’s just nice to have a reason to stand up from my desk and stop staring at my screen.”
With the new coffee offerings, looks like workers will have to find a new reason to get some fresh air.
UPDATE 2/2: Here’s the memo to employees that went out from HR VP Wayne Connell Friday.
To All Post Employees at One Franklin Square,
We heard you. Free coffee was one of the most cited requests in last year’s Pulse Survey, and we’ve been working diligently ever since to make it happen. Henceforth:
- K-cups from Community Coffee are now available in every kitchen on every floor. Creamer is in every refrigerator. Sweetener and stir straws are also nearby in every kitchen: new signage will direct you to the right spot.
- Lots of flavors are available: Cafe Special, Toasted Hazelnut, Pecan Praline, Breakfast Blend, House Blend, Signature Blend (Dark Roast), Cafe Special Decaf, as well as hot chocolate and hot tea.
- Every employee gets a free mug to swill your free coffee: if you don’t already have a #freepress mug (get it? “free … press”?) on your desk, just call, email, or slack Lauren Zack in HR and she will help you out. We’re giving everyone a ceramic mug not only to commemorate the occasion, but to avoid the build-up of paper products like disposable mugs, napkins, etc.
Please note that this is a one-year partnership with Community Coffee – an experiment to see if it works for both of us. If it does, we will renew for 2019.
Special thanks to Doug Coffelt, Director of Retail Client Solutions, without whom this partnership would not be possible. Doug evaluated partnerships with several coffee providers over several months to arrive at this deal – and cheerfully spent a lot of time on this project in addition to his day job. Special thanks to Cheryl Lang, Manager of Facilities, who solved the creamer and condiments puzzle, and will continue the logistically cumbersome process of restocking the kitchens every week. And finally, special thanks to Lauren Zack in HR who helped design and order the coffee mugs and who, with a host of other volunteers, stayed late last night to hand-deliver every mug to every desk throughout the building.
Please share your feedback with us, and enjoy!