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Diversity checks are tearing the Washington Post apart

Sally Buzbee speaks at the Washington Post's headquarters in 2022. Credit: Getty

June 5, 2024 - 7:30pm

Sally Buzbee, once heralded as the first woman to lead the Washington Post, is out of a job. Hired with the enthusiastic blessing of owner Jeff Bezos in 2021, Buzbee oversaw the paper’s continued decline of more than 50% of its audience since 2020. Just last year, the Post‘s deficit hit $77 million, and 700 employees were offered buyouts in October.

Now CEO William Lewis stands accused by his own reporters of sidelining diversity, as though doubling down on elite Leftism will somehow rescue the paper. The issue is that it can’t sustain the overhead of a publication like the Post, unless Bezos is willing to fund the company purely as a charity. But the delusion at the heart of this dilemma, that readers crave warmed-up over-ideological pablum peddled with the pretence of “neutrality”, is also what pushes consumers away.

Buzbee reportedly stepped down to avoid a restructuring that put her in a new role. Matt Murray, a three-decade Wall Street Journal veteran, will replace Buzbee until “low-key British newshound” Robert Winnett steps into the job after election day. David Shipley will stay on as editorial page editor.

In a Monday meeting, the Post reported that Lewis was “grilled by reporters” on the race and sex of Buzbee’s successors. “The most cynical interpretation sort of feels like you chose two of your buddies to come in and help run the Post,” said one member of the staff. “And we now have four white men running three newsrooms.”

Flashing back to Buzbee’s hiring in 2021 is somewhat amusing in this context. “We looked carefully for someone who shares our values of diversity and inclusion, and who is committed to prioritising them in our news coverage as well as our hiring and promotion,” Fred Ryan boasted at the time. Vanity Fair marked the occasion with a photoshoot.

But Buzbee’s staff was far from picture-perfect. One company-wide email referred to the paper as a “toxic work environment” amid racial and sexual strife in 2022. On top of that, high-profile reporter Taylor Lorenz repeatedly stoked public feuds with her own employer.

Now, media critic Jack Shafer describes Bezos’s new hires as the “Murdoch-ization” of the Post, though he cautions that “none of the Lewis crew seem to tilt” towards “fiery Right-wing” fare. When it comes to the Journal, Murdoch himself “merely changed the paper into a tighter read, and edited it more for a general audience than a pure business one,” Shafer argues.

There’s a snobbishness in American mass media that keeps prestige newsrooms in internet-era doom spirals. Indeed, Lewis himself told frustrated Post employees this week: “We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore.”

Papers are thus seeking out managers with paywall experience. But, according to Sara Fischer of Axios, “that often comes at the expense of diversity, and in many cases includes a focus on British talent.” In addition to the Post, Fisher noted “the newsroom leaders of the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News are currently all British, hailing from News Corp titles and the Economist.”

Beltway denizens like Buzbee are not interested in truly cracking down on the anti-audience journalism of writers such as Lorenz, who mistake the preferences of their niche social circles for those of news consumers as a whole. This error is worse for business than ever before because the competition from independent media means readers and listeners can go elsewhere, often for less money and often with less contempt for their ideological differences.

Dispensing with identity politics takes more self-awareness and more courage than most successful journalists are able to muster — at least stateside, where reporters at failing papers still pine for more empty gestures at “diversity”.


Emily Jashinsky is UnHerd‘s Washington D.C. Correspondent.

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Caractacus Potts
Caractacus Potts
19 days ago

The article touches on something that I’ve wondered about in the last few years. How can media companies, film studios, newspapers and the like continue ad infinitum shedding their audiences and losing ever more money without seemingly caring about it at all?
In this example it’s the WP and Bezos who might point to an answer. Have we moved on from consumers and advertisers being the main source of revenue? Are we now in an era where megacorps and billionaires can afford to keep bankrolling loss-making media indefinitely as long as they are pushing their agenda? Does Hollywood not give a fig about releasing flop after flop because it gets film funding from the likes of Blackrock and Vanguard that dwarfs audience receipts?
I don’t know. Maybe too conspiratorial. But it could explain why viewer/reader/audience numbers don’t seem to matter any more.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
19 days ago

It’s not even really about pushing their agenda so much as the prestige of being “the guy who still publishes ‘serious’ journalism” Of course, they reflexively define “serious journalism” as left-wing print journalism; it would never occur to them that right-wing journalism, or online journalism, could be anything other than partisan schlock.

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
19 days ago

Jeff Bezos has $200 billion. He can afford to throw away $77 million a year on a pet project like the Post. What else is going to do with his money?

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
19 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

He could give it to me. I won’t say no.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
18 days ago

Please, let’s form an orderly queue. And I was there before you!
😉

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
19 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

That’s exactly right. Which is why the issue was with the ‘halving of the audience’ rather than with the ‘losing money’. Bezos doesn’t care about burning 77 million a year.
But he does care about losing readership and influence – because that’s exactly what he is trying to buy with his money.

John Riordan
John Riordan
19 days ago
Reply to  Carlos Danger

I think we can be confident that whatever Bezos thinks he is doing with the money, he does not see it as being thrown away. The OP is making a valuable point: perhaps the West is now so corporatist that it makes more sense to make propaganda than to make news and entertainment content that consumers themselves want to pay for.

Emre S
Emre S
19 days ago

There was a good article somewhere explaining this as an artifact of cheap funding from the COVID era. I would combined this with earlier credit easing: the long period of zero interest rates. This period created many new unicorns some times in clearly broken business models (think WeWork). It looks like it also funded a broken media model – at least during COVID easing with tech giants entering the media business (e.g. Amazon and Apple). As the interest rates go up, cheap money dries up and creative destruction begins.

Saul D
Saul D
19 days ago

This is all connected with the nudge and propaganda ideas that the media controls the opinions of the people, so if you control the media you can push opinion in any direction you want it to go and people will follow like sheep.
It turns out that while it might be true for some people, possibly particularly those with a high trust of institutions, but a sizeable portion of the population have opinions first, and then choose media that aligns with their world view, or view the world more skeptically when real world experience doesn’t coincide with the views they are being told to believe. The learnt reality is that media doesn’t have as much control as theory says, and gets rejected if it tries to push its audience to places they don’t want to go.

R Wright
R Wright
19 days ago

When your main aim is propagandising no amount of money thrown into the pit is too great. Remember that in 2012 the U.S government removed restrictions on propagandising against U.S citizens through the Smith-Mundt Modernisation Act.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
18 days ago

I feel that this is the case with The Guardian.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
19 days ago

Whatever else you may say about the Washington Post, it made Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, and John Philip Sousa’s careers.

El Uro
El Uro
19 days ago

It’s hard to pinpoint the moment when a human becomes a zombie

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
19 days ago
Reply to  El Uro

You can only detect it in retrospect, after all the biting.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
19 days ago

There’s a reason American publications are bringing in Brits – they are much less ideological. As bad as the media ecosystem feels in Britain right now, it is infinitely better than the U.S., or anywhere else in the world that I know of. You might not like the Daily Mail for many reasons, but it actually has balance in its news coverage. Same thing with the Telegraph.

PS. Why in the world can these publications simply not fire disgruntled employees? This used to actually happen.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
19 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Unions.

David Giles
David Giles
19 days ago

Unions can prevent general firings, but they can’t prevent redundancies. And they are coming.

El Uro
El Uro
19 days ago

Seeing a journalist from a large English-language newspaper from afar, you can unmistakably say that you see an idiot.
.
I don’t want to brag, but when my young startup colleague many years ago proudly told me that he was being hired by Google, I sadly answered him: “Why are you, a good programmer, going to this cesspool?” He didn’t understand me and I didn’t understand myself; my reaction was purely instinctive. There is always a cadaverous smell in the giant office.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
19 days ago

All I can say is this is enjoyable to watch. I genuinely hope progressives get every single thing they have wished for.

william langdale
william langdale
19 days ago

How many times can these people keep making the same mistake before the penny drops,totally baffles me but then again it doesn’t.”here’s a great plan,let’s decide ideology matters more than truth,what could possibly go wrong”?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago

This article made my day!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
19 days ago

Why not make reading Wash Post compulsory? Not only reading but mandatory discussion in faculty rooms, for instance. Did Pravda go bankrupt? No! Izvestia neither! This was because we had the dictatorship of the proletariat and everyone had to know their duties to the society. Not sure who’s going to enforce this however if we eventually make up our minds to defund the police.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What a great comment! Thank you for the good laugh 🙂
As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, I appreciate your post enormously – not least because so many things now are painfully reminiscent of what I remember from those times.

John Riordan
John Riordan
19 days ago

I’m not one of those tedious people who keep harping on about the working conditions in Amazon warehouses, but I do have to wonder how minimum wage warehouse workers – whose every move is subject to a hard analysis on the effect it has on Amazon’s bottom line – would feel about the idea that Jeff Bezos seems to have willingly funded a news organisation that’s has been haemorrhaging millions of dollars for several years, all because its employees would rather worry about identity politics than actually giving its customers what they want.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
19 days ago

“People are not reading your stuff.”
That’s all that needs to be said.

Buck Rodgers
Buck Rodgers
19 days ago

It’s superficially satisfying to watch these pillocks self-immolate, but the loss of real journalism will make the world a worse place unfortunately.
As an aside, can anyone explain the paradox by which the “progressives”, whose worldview is in one sense so far beyond that of most people (note: not better), simultaneously seem to be a few years out of date? Masks, BLM & trans stuff are so 2020.

T Bone
T Bone
19 days ago
Reply to  Buck Rodgers

Are they progressives or are they Liberation Theologians?

Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
17 days ago
Reply to  Buck Rodgers

I used to read the Washington Post back in the day. I miss it. Of course the paper today is not the same.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha Stevens
19 days ago

Ah. Taylor Lorenz, the “reporter” who proudly attended the Pornhub Awards and posted it all over Twitter. Pornhub – the despicable site that is responsible for leaving human sex trafficking videos up on its website because they “don’t have enough moderators” .
As an American, I have been a Washington Post subscriber for decades, but it is now an absurdly leftist propaganda outlet. And the comment section is where sanity goes to die.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
18 days ago

The WP comment section is completely overrun by communist wackos. And any attempt to make a conservative comment gets you a time-out.

Michael Schelp
Michael Schelp
15 days ago

I suspect that the Washington Post comments section has been taken over by a small, dedicated (unrepresentative) group of Leftists who spend countless hours spewing bile.

Sophy T
Sophy T
19 days ago

‘Papers are thus seeking out managers with paywall experience’

What does that mean?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
18 days ago
Reply to  Sophy T

How to monetize online news so that most articles require a subscription to access.

Andrew Hammond
Andrew Hammond
19 days ago

Well to be fair I get the feeling the have created a very diverse group of people who are no longer buying the paper, so that must be some sort of result isn’t it ?

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
19 days ago

In a Monday meeting, the Post reported that Lewis was â€œgrilled by reporters” on the race and sex of Buzbee’s successors. 
These people just don’t get it and they never will until and unless they are the ones trying to make a payroll. Their vision DOES NOT WORK, no matter how many slogans or how much branding is tried out. In the end, products survive on quality. Or perceived quality. The business of newspapers is right in the name; there is no mystery involved. When circulation or sales or whatever other metric falls, the CEO is the first one affected regardless of race or sex.
WaPo’s diversity-first approach played out as anyone with a shred of intelligence could have predicted. When a business is prioritizing immutable characteristics over product quality, the outcome is pre-ordained. But the staff does not want to hear it. These people do not want to hear that their religion does not work. It is not practical. It may be a useful means to something, but it is never, ever an end. On the other hand, stories like this do make me smile.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
18 days ago

Tom Wolfe’s “Great Re-Learning” may finally be reaching America’s ridiculous newsrooms. “People aren’t reading your stuff.”

Daniel P
Daniel P
18 days ago

At some point you run out of other people’s money. LOL

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson
18 days ago

The enthusiasm of black socialists to sack, destroy, and annihilate anything built by white people is unlimited.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
18 days ago

Lewis himself told frustrated Post employees this week: “We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore.”

Whew! Do you feel the burn!

Rodney Highsmith
Rodney Highsmith
17 days ago

Full disclosure: I have cancelled my subscription, and it will take effect in a few days. I promise I won’t be back. I belong to one of the most hated and vilified minorities in America. I am a moderate and I’m consistently, and equally hated by both the left and right.

I admit the left has better educated haters, and they are much more vile. The troglodytes on the right have much less imagination and their vocabulary is childish. That said, your paper (see how old I am) is doomed. Your mouthpiece for greed head capitalism coupled with socialist rhetoric has finally killed the benefits vs the detriments.

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
16 days ago

The “left” does not have better educated haters. Using big words does not equal intelligence. I have seen simple ideas communicated in long paragraphs and with words of 4-6 syllables, a mishmash of ideas with no connecting points, that used buzzwords, filler-words, and the popular slang of the day. The writer was still dumb, however.