The Washington Post has been battling declining ad revenue and stalled online subscription growth. The question hovering over it in recent months: What does Jeff Bezos think?
The Amazon founder, who bought the news organization in 2013, has said nothing publicly about The Post’s recent struggles. But on Thursday, he made a rare appearance in the newsroom, joining the morning news meeting for the first time in more than a year.
He still said little. “I’m delighted to be here and see all these faces,” Mr. Bezos said, according to three people with knowledge of his remarks, before asking The Post’s top editor, Sally Buzbee, about her recent trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Thank you for allowing me to listen in,” he continued.
“Great,” Ms. Buzbee said. “Let’s have a news meeting.”
But the meeting — with Mr. Bezos seated next to Ms. Buzbee at a large conference table in a glass-walled conference room on the sixth floor, with the publisher, Fred Ryan, sitting nearby — signaled that he was paying attention.
“Jeff is here for in-person meetings with Fred, Sally and staff across the newsroom,” a Post spokeswoman said in an email.
Other than Mr. Bezos’ appearance, the news meeting proceeded as it might on any other day, with editors discussing news stories and readership trends, according to the people with knowledge of the meeting. At one point, an editor mentioned plans to run an article about the discontinuation of AmazonSmile, a charity program that Mr. Bezos championed. The editors also discussed the pending sale of the Washington Commanders. The Post previously reported that Mr. Bezos was interested in buying the National Football League team.
The Post rapidly expanded after Mr. Bezos, one of the world’s richest people, bought the company for $250 million, substantially adding newsroom jobs and increasing its coverage areas. But the business has stalled in the past year.
Last month, Mr. Ryan told staff members in a tense meeting that there would be layoffs. A Post spokeswoman said in a statement at the time that the job cuts were intended to “put our business in the best position for future growth.” The layoffs, which Mr. Ryan said would be a single-digit percentage of staff, are expected to take place early this year.
During the meeting on Thursday, Mr. Bezos’ retinue stood outside the room, earpieces clearly visible. As he left, a Post employee wearing a red shirt emblazoned with the insignia of The Post’s union guild stopped him and asked why the company was laying people off without offering buyouts first, according to the three people with knowledge of the meeting. Mr. Bezos responded that he was at The Post to listen, not answer questions, and underscored his commitment to The Post’s journalism.
The guild said in a statement on Thursday: “We hope that Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos has heard employees’ appeals for a stop to these impending layoffs that, as far as we can tell, are not financially necessary or rooted in any informed business strategy from publisher Fred Ryan.” At least 60 people have joined the guild since Mr. Ryan announced the layoffs, the union said.
Mr. Bezos’ visit was seen internally as an indication of his commitment to the future of the publication, which had been in question. He met with top editors including Cameron Barr, Krissah Thompson, Lori Montgomery, Matea Gold and Phil Rucker, as well as a political reporter, Josh Dawsey, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.
The Post was on track to end 2022 in the red after years of profitability, The New York Times reported in August. The Post has struggled to expand its subscription business, with fewer paying subscribers last year than the three million it had in 2020, a presidential election year.
In recent months, The Post has had an exodus of talent, including its chief information officer, chief communications officer and chief product officer. Several of its top journalists have also left to work at rival publications.