On Wednesday, the Washington Post, which lost about half-a-million subscribers in 2022, announced that it would be conducting additional layoffs in the new year. After announcing the bad news at a company ‘town hall,’ publisher and CEO Fred Ryan refused to provide the staff with any details or answer any of their questions.
In November, the Washington Post revealed that its Sunday magazine would be publishing its final issue on Christmas Day, and the magazine’s staff members were notified suddenly in a meeting that they were out of a job.
A union that represents 1,000 of the publication’s employees, the Washington Post Guild, said it was “outraged” at the announcement.
In a statement, the Post Guild said, “Post management has signaled that the magazine is being cut for financial reasons. But there is no economic justification for layoffs in a year when The Post has hired a record number of new employees. It’s unconscionable that The Post would not retain these dedicated employees so they can continue to serve readers through other jobs at the company.”
Following the frustrating assembly on Wednesday, a video of the conference was released and has since been circulating on social media. The footage reveals how little Ryan appeared to care about the employees’ concerns for their job security.
After announcing the anticipated job cuts, employees tried to ask follow-up questions. As Ryan tried to run out of the meeting, one of the employees called him out for refusing to answer questions, saying, “You should answer them because we’re a news organization that values transparency, and this is our only opportunity to -”
Cutting her off, Ryan said, “No, you have multiple opportunities as representative of The Guild… You meet every week. You’re meeting tomorrow.”
Another staffer spoke out, saying, “Fred, you talked about positions getting eliminated. What are you gonna do to protect people’s jobs? Are they gonna be treated like the magazine staffers were?”
Ryan responded, saying, “We’ll have more information as we move forward, thank you very much.”
As Ryan continued to hurry out of the room, others yelled out, “You are disrespecting this room,” and “You can’t walk away,” but Ryan ignored everyone and proceeded to exit the town hall without taking a single question.
Today, we came into WaPo’s so-called town hall with questions about recent layoffs and the future of the company.
Our publisher dropped a bombshell on us by announcing more layoffs and then walking out, refusing to answer any of our questions. pic.twitter.com/ajNZsZKOBr
— Washington Post Guild (@PostGuild) December 14, 2022
Speaking to Vanity Fair, one staff member expressed their frustration with Ryan’s handling of the major announcement. “Could you get any worse internal PR than this?” said the Washington Post staff member. “It isn’t even the specific answers as the willingness to entertain the questions that’s important. These are people’s livelihoods, these are people’s families. It’s a big deal.”
Katie Mettler, a co-chair of the Post Guild, also expressed her disappointment with the CEO to Vanity Fair, saying, “He ran away. He’s the publisher of a news organization and he wouldn’t take questions from his staff. Democracy dies in darkness, huh?”
In a statement following the disastrous town hall, WaPo’s chief communications officer Kathy Baird said,
“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. 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. This will not be a met reduction in Post headcount. Recently, we have made some of the largest investments in The Post’s history and 2023 will be another year of continued investment.”
In a follow-up email after the meeting, Ryan elaborated on the points that he wasn’t brave enough to discuss in person. He said that the job cuts will take place in the first quarter of the new year, and they are expected to hit the newsroom, which has doubled its employees over Ryan’s eight-year run as CEO.
The Guild released another statement about the new announcement, condemning Ryan’s handling of the situation. The statement said, “This behavior is unacceptable from any leader, but especially the leader of a news organization whose core values include transparency and accountability. There is no justification for The Post to lay off employees in a period of record growth and hiring.”