Will Lewis, the newly appointed publisher and C.E.O. of The Washington Post, was midway into his inaugural meeting with staff on Monday when he was asked by one employee if he could reverse the company’s recent decision to cut 240 jobs, or roughly 10 percent of the workforce. The question alone seemed to evidence significant rank-and-file indifference to the business considerations of the for-profit, privately owned company. After all, the Post is suffering from $100 million in annual losses after years of editorial ennui and financial mismanagement. Lewis’s first order of business, as mandated by his new boss Jeff Bezos, is to return the company to profitability.
With admirable frankness, made more palatable by his British timbre, Lewis said that no, he could not undo the cuts. Later in the conversation, he emphasized the point by clarifying that he was “supportive of the actions that are being taken.” He continued: “They are painful, but I’m supportive of it.”
The exchange was indicative of the challenges Lewis will face as he seeks to restore “swagger” (his word, borrowed from Bezos) to a paper that started churning subscribers, hemorrhaging ad revenue and scaring off talent almost from the moment that Donald Trump and Marty Baron left their respective offices, in Q1 2021. Lewis did a lot to ingratiate himself with his new staff: He spoke about his love of journalism, and family, and was by all accounts charming, enthusiastic and mostly straightforward (there are certain aspects of his history under Murdoch he’d rather not elaborate on).