The Washington Post plans to offer buyouts to employees to reduce its workforce by 240 people, interim CEO Patty Stonesifer told employees in a memo Tuesday. Calling it “difficult news,” Stonesifer said that in consultation with senior leadership, the brass have decided that “prior projections for traffic, subscriptions, and advertising growth for the past two years – and into 2024 – have been overly optimistic and we are working to find ways to return our business to a healthier place in the coming year.”
The answer, she says, is to cut costs.
The Post plans to offer “voluntary separation packages”—aka buyouts—with a goal of reducing headcount “by approximately 240 people across all functions of The Post,” Stonesifer writes. That will be around the number that Post management will cap acceptances. As is often the case with newspaper buyouts, the carrot (voluntary separation) is followed by a stick: “To be clear, we designed this program to reduce our workforce by approximately 240 employees in the hopes of averting more difficult actions such as layoffs – a situation we are united in trying to avoid.”
Two hundred and forty employees represents about 10 percent of the company’s staff, the Washington Post Guild wrote in a statement Tuesday. “We are infuriated about this decision and concerned for our dedicated, brilliant colleagues,” the union wrote. “Today’s announcement comes after at least 38 people were laid off over the last year.” (The Post killed its magazine in November 2022 and announced 20 layoffs this past January.) The union says it found out about the planned buyouts at the same time as the rest of the staff.
The Post Guild is currently renegotiating its contract, which has expired, and the Guild wrote that it “would hope that other cost-cutting measures have been explored — including reductions to executive salaries and the company’s expensive outside counsel, Jones Day, that has aided The Post in its lengthy, ongoing contract fight against its own employees.”
Buyouts were a regular feature of life at the Washington Post in the years before Jeff Bezos bought the publication 2013, but he funded a dramatic increase in the size of the newsroom since. The New York Times reported last year that the Post had begun to lose money since the end of the Trump administration.
Here’s Stonesifer’s memo:
Dear colleagues, I am so sorry to share some difficult news.
Over the last 8 weeks, I have been working with the senior leadership team to review the current state of our business and financial results. We have determined that our prior projections for traffic, subscriptions, and advertising growth for the past two years – and into 2024 – have been overly optimistic and we are working to find ways to return our business to a healthier place in the coming year. We have work going on across the organization to develop a strong plan for 2024 – and make no mistake – we remain bullish about the future of The Washington Post. Our core products and many of our recent investments show great promise – and we all believe the growth we saw in 2016 to 2021 will be ours again if we prioritize and plan appropriately. But 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.
As a result, we have decided to offer a voluntary separation package over the next few weeks designed to reduce our workforce by approximately 240 people across all functions of The Post. This program will offer generous incentives to employees in specific roles where we believe we can reduce costs if work can be assigned more efficiently, where positions do not need to be replaced or where we can otherwise achieve cost savings through a voluntary reduction in our workforce. This package will be offered to employees in specific roles or departments, and they will be free to accept or decline this option. To ensure this program is fair and voluntary, a much larger group of employees will receive the offer, but acceptances will be capped at approximately 240 people. In many cases, we are offering the program to all employees with a specific title or in a particular area, even though only a small subset of those employees will ultimately receive this benefit. (If acceptances exceed the cap, we will award based on seniority.)
To be clear, we designed this program to reduce our workforce by approximately 240 employees in the hopes of averting more difficult actions such as layoffs – a situation we are united in trying to avoid.
We will come together tomorrow, Wednesday October 11 at 10:00 a.m. ET both on Zoom (the link will be provided in a calendar invite) and in person in the 4th floor Live Center to further describe this program. Following this meeting, all eligible employees will be notified by email if their position is included in the program, and they are welcome to consider the package. Senior leaders will then share department specific information in meetings to follow throughout the day.
I know you will have many questions about this, and we will strive to answer these tomorrow as best as we can and will work together to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Here’s the full statement from the Post Guild:
On Tuesday, Washington Post interim CEO Patty Stonesifer announced the company’s intention to reduce the workforce by 240 people, about 10 percent of our staff, through voluntary buyouts.
We are infuriated about this decision and concerned for our dedicated, brilliant colleagues. Today’s announcement comes after at least 38 people were laid off over the last year.
Hard-working Post employees are going to lose their jobs because of a litany of poor business decisions at the top of our company. We cannot comprehend how The Post, owned by one of the richest people in the world, has decided to foist the consequences of its incoherent business plan and irresponsibly rapid expansion onto the hardworking people who make this company run.
This feels especially egregious when our colleagues are in the midst of covering and delivering urgent and unrelenting news from around the world, including two wars, a presidential election, assaults on American democracy, the growing climate catastrophe and an affordable housing crisis in the D.C. region and beyond. We cannot fathom how The Post plans to continue to remain competitive in this industry without investing in its staff.
After the unjustified layoffs that took place earlier this year, we would hope that other cost-cutting measures have been explored — including reductions to executive salaries and the company’s expensive outside counsel, Jones Day, that has aided The Post in its lengthy, ongoing contract fight against its own employees.
Despite this, we nevertheless are heartened to see that the advocacy of our members was heeded and the company has instead turned to buyouts — a more humane practice — for this round of staff reductions.
The Guild was made aware of these buyouts at the same time as the rest of the Post staff. Guild leadership will work in the coming days to secure the most fair and generous buyout package for our members and support all of our colleagues impacted by these buyouts.
Disclosure: Washingtonian’s editorial staff is also represented by the Washington-Baltimore News Guild.