Earlier this month, Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan and a handful of executives traveled to Seattle for a budget meeting with owner Jeff Bezos. The paper’s executive editor Sally Buzbee was not in attendance, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting.
Turmoil back in Washington, DC has followed. Ryan abruptly announced a round of layoffs. Buzbee appeared to distance herself from her publisher. The Post and Buzbee did not respond to requests for comment.
And employees and observers of the Post alike were left wondering what Bezos is doing with the publication.
When the tech billionaire bought the Post in 2013, Bezos said he dreamed of reimagining the newspaper as both a media and technology powerhouse.
But the dream of morphing a paper into a tech company has foundered. Earlier this month, the Post folded its standalone ad tech platform, Zeus, into other parts of the company, and its attempt to provide its publishing system as a service to other publishers may have to be spun out of the company.
What’s left is a very different strategy: An attempt to create a media bundle across spaces like cooking and games that have been firmly seized by The New York Times.
This is a more conventional business and even at best, a less interesting one for a tech entrepreneur. In the years immediately after his acquisition, Bezos was deeply engaged with this idea, wondering how the Post could recreate the experience of the physical newspaper in the digital age, people familiar with his management said. He was also particularly focused on improving the user experience, and increasing the paper’s international footprint and presence.
The business’s mission is now far murkier. Ryan, the increasingly embattled publisher, has a freer hand than he did when Martin Baron was leading the editorial side. While Baron did not attend budget meetings with Bezos, he often accompanied Ryan to Seattle to meet with the billionaire, Post sources said.
Meanwhile Bezos is focused on other things — literally too far out in space, as one Post employee noted, to pay much attention.