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The Washington Post is offering voluntary buyouts to 240 employees

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Washington Post is the latest news outlet to cut jobs - 240 of them - through voluntary buyouts. The Post's leadership says the company, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has been, quote, "overly optimistic" about its growth for the past two years. And now it's hoping that enough employees will volunteer to leave so that it doesn't have to resort to more drastic measures such as layoffs. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now. David, what's behind this?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: OK, A, well, you know, it appears to go back in some ways to what happened after 2021. Subscriptions peaked, according to Washington Post executives, near 3 million. It's now down to 2.5 million. Print ads are down 10% in that time, digital ads down 30%, and this at a time where it looked as though predictions were going to offer a much rosier future for the Post. This is a tough blow in the moment for a proud paper that really flourished during the years of then-President Donald Trump and then seems to have faded when he was out of office. You know, the news fatigue has hit all media across all different kinds of platforms, but The Washington Post appears, as a federal newspaper, to have been hit particularly hard.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, you've reported that the Post had a staff meeting this morning. Any idea what was announced there?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah, I've talked to somebody who was in the meeting and also following the tweets of a few attendees as well. There was something like 400 people attending, very tense and upset staff who had learned yesterday just first word of this. Patty Stonesifer is the longtime adviser and aide to Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder who is the personal owner of The Washington Post. She said, look, those projections were wrong in the past. And although she said she didn't want to litigate the past, it was clear that the past leadership didn't serve this asset well and that there were major investments in the newsroom that, you know, the fading of subscriptions, much less the lack of growth that had been projected, couldn't support. She said that there was going to be a split in that they would look to cut about 120 jobs from news, 120 jobs from the business side, an even match. It looks as though they're going to drill down on those areas that are not providing strong reader interest and strong reader growth.

But, you know, at a time covering the - you know, this terrible attacks by Hamas in Israel and now the ground war in Gaza, at a time when you have people risking their lives to cover the conflict, Ukraine trying to drive out the Russians and other major issues, you know, this is really a hard hit here. The one thing I will say is that - excuse me, I said Penny Stonesifer says - is that she says, we don't have an owner, meaning Bezos, who wants to reap profits here, but that, you know, it's a time to make sure that the news organization is built for growth and for health.

MARTÍNEZ: Journalists losing jobs hits home for all of us in the news biz. How do you think this plays out against the broader media landscape?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, for me, look, I've been covering about the notion that there's been a collapse in advertising in podcasting. And we've seen that at NPR where we, you know, lost about 10% of our colleagues. Also at Gimlet, which is part of Spotify, most recently New York Public Radio announcing it would reduce jobs by over 10% - all hit hard by this collapse of ads on podcasting. But I think we now really just have to view this as a larger blow to news media more generally, particularly when it comes to ads. The LA Times laid off 13%. When you take into account earlier cuts this year at The Washington Post - over 11% of job cuts, it looks back; seven, eight, 9% cuts elsewhere - these are all been a pullback of ads in anticipation of a recession that is yet to arrive and yet was trumpeted in the pages of those media outlets for many months ahead of it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.