By:
January 25, 2023

We knew layoffs were coming to The Washington Post. Publisher and CEO Fred Ryan said so at a contentious town hall meeting last month. Then there was an ominous sign last week when Post owner Jeff Bezos made a rare visit to the newsroom — sitting in on the morning news meeting for the first time in more than a year.

On Tuesday, it happened. The layoffs began.

In all, 20 people were laid off. In addition, the Post announced 30 more openings will not be filled.

In a note to staff, Post executive editor Sally Buzbee wrote, “Newsroom leaders made these decisions after a thoughtful and deliberate review of our current roles and vacant positions. … While such changes are not easy, evolution is necessary for us to stay competitive, and the economic climate has guided our decision to act now. We believe these steps will ultimately help us to fulfill our mission to scrutinize power and empower readers. We are not planning further job eliminations at this time.”

The areas hardest hit were the video game and esports section, Launcher, and KidsPost, a news and feature section aimed at kids for the past two decades. My colleague Annie Aguiar will have more on Launcher, which debuted in 2019, later in the newsletter. There also were cuts made in the metro section.

The number of layoffs was smaller than many at the Post, based on Ryan’s comments in the town hall, had anticipated. Not that that makes the news any better.

The Washington Post Guild wrote, “While 20 is much smaller than 200 — ‘a single digit percentage of the workforce,’ as Publisher Fred Ryan indicated, that’s little consolation to those who lost their jobs today. That number should be zero.”

The Guild went on to say, “We have received no clear explanation for why these layoffs had to happen. As far as we can tell, they are not financially necessary or rooted in any coherent business plan from our publisher, who has said that he expects the company to be larger a year from now.”

One Post employee told The Daily Beast’s Corbin Bolies, “The layoffs seem completely unnecessary. Also unnecessary: Scaring staff for an entire month by suggesting there would be even more people laid off. I don’t think today’s news inspires any additional confidence in management and how they have handled this.”

The Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison and Elahe Izadi wrote, “Even with the layoffs, The Post’s overall head count will remain the same or higher by the end of 2023. The company will continue to hire new personnel in other roles, Ryan has said. The company will continue to expand its coverage in areas that provide ‘high value to our subscribers and new audiences,’ a Post spokeswoman said last month.”

The newsroom has more than 1,000 staffers. Buzbee said those laid off will be eligible to apply for open positions.

The Washington Post cuts Launcher

For this item, I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Annie Aguiar.

The Washington Post has eliminated its gaming vertical, Launcher, laying off five editorial staffers and striking a blow to video game coverage in general audience publications.

Launcher was a standout for sophistication when covering video games, a rarity for putting real care into stories when other mainstream outlets are content to leave it at “Pokemon Go, kids these days.” While there is a stable of self-contained video game journalism outlets, a major news organization like The Washington Post dedicating resources to sophisticated video game coverage felt exciting and savvy.

Cutting the vertical is also a bad business move. Video game coverage has massive potential for building reader trust with new audiences (Academy Awards viewership in 2022? 16.6 million people. The Game Awards? 103 million), which Launcher directly demonstrated.

“Over three years, Launcher attracted over tens of millions of users, the majority first-time readers of The Post and almost all of them under the age of 40,” the section’s editor, Mike Hume, tweeted in a thread after news of the layoffs.

Hume also pointed to Launcher’s web traffic increasing year over year, underscoring how “upsetting and, perhaps most of all, mindboggling” the decision is. The Post will move its video game coverage under the Style section.

More on gaming coverage …

As Aguiar mentioned just above, the Post will move video game coverage to the Style section. Gene Park will be the only reporter focused on gaming.

Park told The Daily Beast’s Corbin Bolies, “It was up until today that we thought the Post would have our back. Everything seemed to indicate that we would be OK.”

As far as moving over by himself to Style, Park told Bolies, “I have no choice but to try and trust them on this. I’m glad they’re making decisions to try and consider our future. I hope they figure it out.”

Pushing back against Pompeo’s book

Mike Pompeo’s new book — “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love” — came out Tuesday. Earlier this week, NBC News obtained an advance copy of the book written by the former secretary of state and CIA director during the Trump administration. In it, Pompeo made questionable remarks about journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in 2018.

It’s believed Khashoggi was murdered under the order of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pompeo said Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post, “didn’t deserve to die, but we need to be clear about who he was — and too many in the media were not.”

Pompeo called Khashoggi an “activist” and said he was only a journalist “to the extent that I, and many other public figures are journalists. We sometimes get our writing published, but we also do other things.” Pompeo also said Khashoggi was “cozy with the terrorist-supporting Muslim Brotherhood.” That was a claim strongly denied by Khashoggi’s widow, Hanan Elatr Khashoggi.

On Tuesday, Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan put out a statement that said: “It is shocking and disappointing to see Mike Pompeo’s book so outrageously misrepresent the life and work of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. As the CIA — which Pompeo once directed — concluded, Jamal was brutally murdered on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. His only offense was exposing corruption and oppression among those in power — work that good journalists around the world do every day. Jamal dedicated himself to the values of free speech and a free press and held himself to the highest professional standards. For this devotion, he paid the ultimate price. It is shameful that Pompeo would spread vile falsehoods to dishonor a courageous man’s life and service — and his commitment to principles Americans hold dear — as a ploy to sell books.”

As far as the book, Tim Weiner reviewed it for The Washington Post, writing, “But love is not the guiding light of ‘Never Give an Inch.’ Hatred animates this book. It’s got more venom than a quiver of cobras.”

One humorous note about the book’s cover. Pompeo was mocked for a blurb that appeared on the back covering of the book. It was a glowing review from, uh, Pompeo. He wrote, “My new book reads like a thriller with stories from my heart.”

Hey, what are these?

Former Vice President Mike Pence, shown here last month. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File)

I was going to clean out my garage this weekend, but now I’m afraid that I have classified White House documents in my possession.

The latest news is former Vice President Mike Pence had about a dozen documents marked as classified at his Indiana home. According to CNN’s Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Evan Perez, a lawyer for Pence discovered the documents and they were turned over to the FBI.

A representative for Pence wrote in a statement, “Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence. Vice President Pence understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.”

Back in November 2022, in wake of the news that former President Donald Trump had classified documents at his Florida home, ABC News’s David Muir asked Pence if he had taken classified documents from the White House. Pence said, “I did not.”

It didn’t take long for social media to dig up all the recent interviews of conservative leaders criticizing Joe Biden for having documents, including Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene being interviewed by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. There was also this recent clip of Pence applauding the appointment of a special counsel to look into the documents found in Biden’s office and home from when Biden was vice president.

By the way, Trump had an interesting take on his former vice president, who could end up being his opponent for the Republican nomination for president. Trump said on Truth Social: “Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!”

Oh, and to close up this item, there’s this tweet from Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin: “Al Gore, check your garage!”

On second thought

Rupert Murdoch has decided to scrap plans to combine Fox Corp. and News Corp. — a move that would have combined his broadcasting and print properties into one big media company.

The New York Times’ Lauren Hirsch, Katie Robertson and Benjamin Mullin wrote, “The deal, if it had gone through, would have put a collection of news and entertainment assets including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, the Fox broadcasting network and TMZ under the same corporate umbrella. When it was initially proposed, Mr. Murdoch was said to be interested in the potential for cost savings and the possibility of integrating some of the companies.”

Fox and News Corp. used to be one company until Murdoch split them in 2013. Last October, the companies announced that they were exploring a merger.

But News Corp. said in a statement Tuesday that combining the companies under one big tent was “not optimal for shareholders of News Corp and Fox at this time.”

The Times wrote, “… executives and investors had significant questions about the rationale of the deal. When Mr. Murdoch initially separated the two companies, he argued that Fox’s TV and movie business and News Corp’s digital media business were better off separate. His son Lachlan, the chief executive of Fox, told investors in 2019 that the companies would not reunite. Some investors questioned whether the deal would equally benefit both companies given News Corp’s valuable assets, like its sizable real estate business. Some also questioned whether Rupert Murdoch’s interests were more aligned with Fox, in which he owns a larger share than in News Corp.”

And the nominees are …

A view of an Oscars statue appears before the start of the 95th Academy Awards nomination ceremony. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Nominations for the Academy Awards came out Tuesday morning. “Everything Everywhere All at Once” led the way with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert) and Best Actress (Michelle Yeoh). If Yeoh wins, she would be the first Asian woman to win a lead actress Oscar.

There will be plenty written and said in the weeks before the Academy Awards show on March 12 in Hollywood (and televised on ABC). But right after the Oscar nominations come out, it’s fun to look at the surprises and snubs.

Los Angeles Times columnist Glenn Whipp included lead actress nominee Andrea Riseborough and supporting actor Judd Hirsch among the surprises, while he included Tom Cruise (lead actor) and Danielle Deadwyler (lead actress) among the snubs.

An interesting bit of trivia regarding Hirsch, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” He was last nominated for an acting Oscar in 1981 for his performance in “Ordinary People.” The 42-year gap between nominations is the longest ever in an acting category. Henry Fonda’s 41 years (1941 and 1982) was the previous record. Hirsch, 87, is now the second-oldest actor to be nominated for an Oscar. Christopher Plummer was 88 in 2018.

Here are some other Oscar pieces of interest:

Legal speak

(Courtesy: NBC News)

On Tuesday, MSNBC Digital debuted “Deadline: Legal Blog,” which is an expansion to the network’s “Deadline: White House” with anchor Nicolle Wallace.

Former prosecutor and legal reporter Jordan Rubin will serve as lead author for the blog. He will look at the latest news through a legal lens, including the Supreme Court and newsworthy legal cases and investigations. This week’s inaugural posts highlight the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the upcoming Supreme Court cases and more.

Here’s a clip from Tuesday introducing the new blog.

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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