In Fight For Control Of The Washington Post, The Tories Win

The Washington Post announced yesterday that executive editor Sally Buzbee has stepped down after three years at the helm. This doesn’t sound good for American readers. Via the Associated Press:

She will be replaced by Matt Murray, former editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, through this fall’s presidential election. Following that, Robert Winnett, deputy editor of the Telegraph Media Group, will take over as editor as the newsroom restructures its operations.

No reason was given for Buzbee’s departure. She wasn’t quoted in the news release announcing that she was leaving, and did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The Post also announced that it was launching a new division in its newsroom dedicated to reaching audiences who want to pay for and consume news in a different way.

I know people who just left there, and for the past year, I’ve been hearing stories of the once-great paper flailing under Jeff Bezos. (One of the ideas top brass floated? Getting rid of the opinion writers and replacing them with featured “letters to the editor.”)

Well, now they’ve decided to go full Rupert Murdoch, installing the guy who was in the middle of the Telegraph’s paying-for-scoops scandal and blaming loss of subscribers for the move. (That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with their about-face after Biden won, of course. Content is always insignificant to brilliant restructuring plans.) Dan Froomkin, who used to work there, gives his take:

NPR’s David Folkenflik wrote on Twitter:

Some WashPost thoughts, based on conversations with six people with knowledge of events, overlaid with a touch of analysis. Let’s even call it a 🧵

First: Will Lewis wanted to force out Sally Buzbee and bring a trusted pal to run the WaPo newsroom. He wanted to make his mark.

Buzbee didn’t want to give up her job for an ill-defined position.

Though Lewis praised her as “an incredible leader and a supremely talented media executive who will be sorely missed,” Buzbee offered no comments in statement announcing her departure.

That left Lewis with a conundrum: His pal, a Brit with no US experience, could not lead the WaPo newsroom during a heated presidential election cycle (not mention unprecedented legal troubles for a former and potentially future president).

Murray’s post-election portfolio, from the cheap seats and even some inside the Washington Post, looks like a hodge-podge.

The new platforms/revenue streams/verticals are surely important to Lewis’ pledge to move fast to fix and build a stronger paper, but they don’t cohere.

Murray is well regarded from his stint at the WSJ – many Journal alums are saluting him tonight. He is seen as nimble rather than a radical innovator.

Fwiw, it has not gone unnoticed that all three Lewis newsrooms are headed by white males. But Murray won’t be the long-term editor of the paper – despite his title as executive editor. Nor will he oversee the conventional newsroom’s chief. That will be Rob Winnett

As I noted earlier, Winnett was a key reporter on Lewis team breaking Parliamentary expenses scandal. A lingering question: Why Winnett, beyond the shared history with Lewis?

Another: Will they foreswear paying sources for scoops, as they did for the British MP expense database? or are they open to redefining US and WaPo journalistic standards against such payments?

Another observation: there is queasiness among some at WaPo that these moves represent Lewis’ drive to consolidate power after newsroom gave thorough coverage to troubling questions facing him in U.K.

No evidence one way or the other on that – may be clarified by detailing timing.

Bonus reminder: the WSJ – CNN – WaPo all run by Brits right now.

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