Just over a year after Amazon.com mogul Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post from the family that had controlled it for most of the last century, the paper has tossed out publisher Katharine Weymouth, the last family member still involved in the company’s senior management, on Tuesday and replaced her with one of the founders of Politico.
Weymouth, 48, is the niece of Don Graham, who as head of the Washington Post Company decided to sell the business to Bezos last summer for $250 million. She’d stayed on after the sale and will remain until the end of the year as a consultant, officials say. New publisher Frederick J. Ryan, who left Politico‘s parent company Allbritton Communications last fall after it sold WJLA-TV, will start Oct. 1.
“Now it is time for new leadership,” Weymouth wrote in a memo to staff. “With Jeff Bezos as our new owner, you are already seeing an infusion of energy and ideas. This is just the beginning of a wonderful new chapter for the Post. There is simply no other news organization in the enviable position of the Washington Post—with unbeatable talent throughout and with an owner who has the resources, is extremely ambitious, and has the patience to invest and experiment. I will miss you all. The Post will always feel like a part of me. I will read it every day in print and online. And, like my uncle, I will be cheering from the sidelines.”
Ryan, 59, was an advisor to Ronald Reagan for years before joining Allbritton, where he eventually became head of the company’s TV division. His role as the first chief executive of Politico—which was founded by ex-Post journalists in 2007 after Graham declined to launch it at his family’s paper—wound up reconfiguring both the journalism industry nationally and the media market in the city the Post covers, providing intense local competition on political news for the Post and making the legacy print paper look lumbering as a business at times.
“Anyone who loves the Post will wish Fred Ryan nothing but the best in becoming publisher,” Graham told the Post.
When Weymouth became the paper’s publisher in 2008, its financial situation was already shaky enough that she tried to raise new revenue through a heavily panned series of private “salons” at her house with lobbyists, administration officials, and Post journalists; by the time she persuaded Graham that selling the newspaper was the only way to save it, it had lost money for seven consecutive years, including a 2012 operating loss of $53 million. That didn’t necessarily hurt Weymouth’s personal budget: she made $2.4 million in salary and bonuses in 2012, even as the paper continued to cut staff.
Her last year in the job, though, was a happier one for the bottom line. Backed by Bezos’ enormous fortune, the Post has been expanding like, well, like a Rosslyn-based Internet startup newspaper. And in announcing Weymouth’s departure, the paper said editor Marty Baron, who Weymouth hired in late 2012 after pushing out his predecessor, Marcus Brauchli, would stay. Ultimately, that’ll mean more for everyday readers than who’s running the business side.
Read the memo from Weymouth below.
From: “Weymouth, Katharine”
Date: September 2, 2014 at 9:00:29 AM EDT
To: “Weymouth, Katharine”
The greatest honor of my life has been serving as publisher of The Post these past seven years, working with all of you. Now, after 17 years at this great institution, it is time for me to explore other opportunities.
I make this announcement with mixed emotions. I am enormously excited about this new era at The Post, but I will miss all of you tremendously.
The Post will be in excellent hands. Effective October 1, 2014, Fred Ryan, will become Publisher and CEO. Fred is a seasoned and well-respected executive with a track record of success at the helm of Politico and Allbritton Communications. He knows Washington, and he knows media. Fred is excited to take the helm and to meet all of you.
Fred and I will work closely together to ensure a smooth and easy transition. I will remain available as an advisor to him and to The Post through the end of the year.
I want to take a moment to tell you how proud I am of the talent we have in this company – both in the newsroom and business operations. I promised you when I started that it would never be boring. Promise kept.
I am tremendously proud of all that we have accomplished. Our business model is strong. And under Marty Baron’s leadership, our journalism has never been better. We have embarked on revelatory investigative projects while also giving our readers stories and videos that reflect the joy and humor in life. We have uncovered corruption, shown the real-world impact of economic upheaval, and provided unequaled coverage of the Obama administration’s first and now second terms. We have shown courage in reporting on wars and unrest all over the world, and we exposed how the government’s anti-terrorism technology poses profound civil liberties issues for Americans. We have never forgotten our local community, highlighting issues of public safety and providing readers the information they need to be engaged citizens. As a result, we have more readers today than ever.
We have made the transition to the digital era, and we’ve done it so successfully that in a time when many media companies seem positioned for retreat, we are positioned for opportunity. That’s something for all of us to take pride in, and it couldn’t have happened without every one of you.
I cannot mention or thank everyone who deserves my gratitude and who has contributed to our success. I do want to acknowledge and thank the senior team. Under Shailesh Prakash’s leadership, we have built an Engineering department with the skills necessary for the technological challenges and opportunities for today’s news organizations. In addition: Usha Chaudhary – our steady, thoughtful, unflappable CFO; Wayne Connell, who taught me that HR is not just about benefits but is about building and growing talent; Kris Coratti, who does everything from promoting our talent on radio and TV to devising the wonderful partnerships we have in the community; Gregg Fernandes, who makes sure papers get out every night in rain or snow; Jim Coley, who makes sure that they get printed every night with consistently high quality; Fred Hiatt, our thoughtful Editorial Page Editor, who is a consistent and brave advocate for human rights around the world; Jay Kennedy, who keeps us out of trouble, vets our stories and tirelessly works to get us access to documents that should be public; and Kevin Gentzel, who has built a world-class, innovative advertising sales team. Finally, none of this could have happened without the strong and courageous guidance of Steve Hills on the business side. Steve has been my right hand and has been instrumental in our success.
Now it is time for new leadership. With Jeff Bezos as our new owner, you are already seeing an infusion of energy and ideas. This is just the beginning of a wonderful new chapter for The Post. There is simply no other news organization in the enviable position of The Washington Post – with unbeatable talent throughout and with an owner who has the resources, is extremely ambitious, and has the patience to invest and experiment.
I will miss you all. The Post will always feel like a part of me. I will read it every day in print and online. And, like my uncle, I will be cheering from the sidelines.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery