Washington Post seizes new direction as Trump-Era boom fades

Top Washington Post officials gathered last week and discussed how to respond to a major problem facing the news outlet: a plummeting online readership.

Executive editor Sally Buzbee said she was struck by a presentation that showed that over a period of 2019 nearly all of the 50 most popular articles on the Post’s homepage were related to politics, while for the same period in 2021, there were only three of the top papers. 10 people involved in politics, people familiar with the meeting said.

Ms. Buzbee weighed in with her conclusion: When political news is unpopular with the Post’s readers, the news organization needs to be in a position to outperform other types of news coverage.

The Post, like most major publications, experienced a surge in viewership during the Trump years, as readers flocked to stories about the controversial Republican administration. Now, the Post is facing a slump that has triggered a number of soul searches in the paper, including a need to invest more in areas of reporting outside of politics, according to people familiar with the news agency’s operations and internal documents viewed by The Wall Street. Magazine.

One document gave a clear picture: The site had about 66 million monthly unique visitors in October, down 28% from last year. Most major publishers have experienced a drop in viewership since 2020, as national politics and the Covid-19 pandemic increased their readership. Several of the Post’s competitors, including the New York Times, Journal, Vox Media and CNN, saw smaller declines in that timeframe, according to the document citing data from Comscore. Other politically-focused publications, including Hill and Politico, experienced more drops in traffic than the Post’s during that time, according to the document.

Meanwhile, the Post Office’s digital subscriber growth rate has begun to stagnate. According to internal documents, the store had 2.7 million digital subscribers as of October, down from about three million in January. Several people familiar with Post’s operations said the publisher expected a near-steady end to digital subscriptions for the year.

Post has worked for more than two years to develop its services and attract new readers, “knowing that news consumption is cyclical,” a Post spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve been thoughtful in our strategic work and are seeing the results of our investments across the company, especially with the growth of our newsroom, the expansion of our reach. and the sophistication of our storytelling tools.”

Other newsrooms have tried to expand, even before this year. The magazine has about 50 million monthly visitors as of October, according to

Common point.

Store executives discussed plans last year to double its audience by the end of fiscal 2024, people familiar with the matter said.

A spokesman for Dow Jones parent company declined to comment on the company’s plans to grow its audience. Dow Jones executives said at an investor event in September 2020 that the company plans to double its membership business over the long term.

At the New York Times, a significant portion of subscription growth has come from low-cost digital services like games, cooking products, and product demo site Wirecutter. The Times in November warned that subscription growth could come under pressure in the fourth quarter as promotional prices are phased out.


The Washington Post, based on K Street in Washington, D.C., has been traumatized by unpopular political news following the end of the controversial Trump administration.


Image Eric BARADAT / AFP / Getty

Storms come in a new era at the Washington Post. In May, the newspaper announced that it had selected Ms. Buzbee after a process involving the Post’s publisher, Fred Ryan, and its owner, Inc.


Jeff Bezos. Buzbee, the top editor for the Associated Press news cooperative, said in a memo to employees in September that the Post Office would hire dozens of new editors and beef up the newspaper’s capabilities. to publish breaking news and in-depth journalism.

At last week’s meeting, Post editors discussed the idea of ​​dedicating more resources to areas of interest, such as ethos and culture, according to people familiar with the meeting. meeting. A slide they reviewed showed top stories from the Post’s homepage including a financial investigation called the “Pandora Papers,” the story of a deadly shooting on the set of the movie “Rust” ” and a feature about singer-songwriter Cat Stevens, who goes by the name Yusuf Islam.

Buzbee warned that politics is cyclical, and the article should prepare for when readers’ interest in politics spikes again, people familiar with the meeting said.

An analysis of the Post’s readership found that traffic from non-subscribers dropped 35% in two years, according to one of the documents seen by the Journal. The document says more non-subscribers will hit the “fee wall” in 2021, compared with 2019.

Traffic from subscribers is growing, but not fast enough to make that difference. From October 2019 to October 2021, digital subscribers increased 56%, but subscriber page views increased only 6% during that period, according to the document.

“Active subscribers come in less often, and when they do, they consume fewer pageviews,” one slide. Several people familiar with the Post’s operations said The Post had launched an effort called “Operation Runway,” which involved growing readership by directing readers to additional stories through Referral links.

According to a document from May reviewed by this Journal. Titled “Industry Insights: Younger Audiences,” it says that only 14% of Washington Post subscribers are under 55, compared with 61% of the US adult population. The document summarizes five groups of potential subscribers to the Post, including “satisfied and uninterested”, “middlemen”, “realists”, “attached intellectuals” and “people who are not interested”. confident efforts” and estimate their level of interest in the Post.

“Our paid product is not appealing to young people,” the document reads. Of those groups, the only group listed with “high” interest in the Post were “confident strivers,” which the document describes as “rich, urban men who have get married and have kids, more ethnically diverse, more liberal/Democratic.”

A Washington Post spokesperson said: “This was a third-party study conducted to help identify potential motives for signing up, and we weren’t focused on just one of them. “Instead, we’re using all of the data to think about where we’re going to invest and grow in 2022.”

In August, the Washington Post said it created an initiative called “Next Generation” to attract younger registrants and appoint some to join that effort.


In recent years, Washington Post editors have sometimes considered making high-value acquisitions to support the newsroom, above.


Image of brendan smialowski / Agence France-Presse / Getty

At a meeting last week, the editors compared the newspaper’s readership and story selection with that of the New York Times’ rival. One slide showed that some entertaining stories popular with the Post’s readers still didn’t generate the same amount of traffic as similar stories in the Times.

Like the Times, the Washington Post has launched new products in recent years to broaden its audience beyond political junkies. Those efforts include Lily, which focuses on women, Video Game Section Launcher, food hub Voracious, and By the Way, a travel destination.

Some people associated with those brands said Post’s management, especially Ryan, didn’t invest enough resources to create the success of rival products such as New’s Cooking product. York Times. Some say that the Post regularly holds meetings dedicated to competitor analysis but often fails to act on the insights from those meetings in a meaningful way.

In recent years, Washington Post editors have occasionally considered making high-profile acquisitions to support the newsroom, but some of those discussions have not resulted in a transaction, several people familiar with the matter said. with the operation of the Post Office said. This year, executives discussed buying theSkimm, an all-female media startup known for its hot news, but no such deal has materialized, according to reports. people familiar with the matter.

Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Post editors discussed buying Decision Desk HQ, an election analysis website best known for calling races alongside the Associated Press, according to people familiar with the matter. familiar with the matter.

Recently, The Post has devoted resources to marketing its brand to readers, an effort that has generated mixed reactions within the newspaper. During a staff meeting at town hall this fall, Post executives said the paper would be on the air. a brand campaign featuring “Afghanistan Papers” investigation into the game show “Jeopardy!,” which some say is out of date with its plan to appeal to younger readers. Newspaper employees also discussed the use of a provocative ad featuring the song “For What It Worth” by the band Buffalo Springfield, but the ad never aired, one of them said. said.

Write letter for Benjamin Mullin at and Alexandra Bruell at

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