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The publisher of the Washington Post revealed that the newspaper lost $77 million last year. Here’s your plan to change it

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Reliable Sources newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.


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On Wednesday, Will Lewis, the new publisher and CEO of The Washington Post, took the stage before gathering staff at the company’s D.C. headquarters to outline his vision for guiding the iconic newspaper toward a financially prosperous future.

Dressed in a navy jacket and button-down shirt, along with his trademark sneakers (the Brit is known to be partial to casual footwear), Lewis was the first to convey the cold, hard reality to his assembled workforce. He candidly explained the depth of The Post’s recent financial problems, revealing that he had lost $77 million over the past year and had seen a dramatic 50% drop in his audience from the highs of 2020.

“To put it bluntly,” Lewis told staff at the end of the 90-minute meeting, “we are in a hole and have been for some time.”

But Lewis said he has a plan to rescue the renowned newspaper that has published some of the biggest stories of our time and turned its most influential journalists into household names. That plan, officially called the “build” phase of the recovery project (which follows the “tell it” and “fix it” phases), was defined by a pyramid shared with staff in a PowerPoint presentation.

The pyramid, intended to help employees envision new business opportunities, showcased traditional subscription membership along with new subscription and payment offers for readers.

Among the new revenue streams were “flexible payments,” which were described to employees as “frictionless payments” that would target a “likely untapped” audience. In other words, a person who might be interested in reading a single story on The Post’s website will soon be able to make that one-time purchase through a service like Apple Pay. I’m told that feature will, in fact, begin rolling out next quarter.

Additional subscription tiers, called Post Pro and Post Plus, are also in the works, targeting working professionals and die-hard readers with additional products, including an upcoming newsletter focused on the climate and the economy. The plan follows similar premium subscription offerings from companies like Axios and POLITICO, which have introduced “pro” plans that have helped tap into new revenue streams.

“We believe we’ve been a single organization for too long, so we’re excited to create a new set of professional and consumer products that better meet the needs of our multifaceted audiences,” Karl Wells, chief growth officer at The Post, explained .

Lewis’ plan, however, included more than simply renewing The Post’s subscription offerings. Silicon Valley veteran Vineet Khosla, the newspaper’s chief technology officer, appeared on stage and spoke to staff about the need to integrate artificial intelligence into the Post newsroom.

“I totally understand that there is a huge fear of AI everywhere,” he said. “But I want us to go beyond fear. The way I see us operating is that we have AI everywhere. We have AI in our newsroom; we have AI with our consumers; we have AI in the business… Start thinking of it as a co-pilot.”

Experimentation with machine language models is already underway. The Post has begun using AI-generated voices to allow people to listen to select newsletters. And last week, executive editor Sally Buzbee announced in an internal memo an expanded version of the articles’ conclusions, which will be generated by AI and edited by humans in the newsroom.

At the same time, Kathy Baird, the Post’s communications director, told staff at Wednesday’s meeting that the paper plans to strengthen audience relationships with its journalists, with the goal of promoting key journalists who create its reports and connect them with readers. While The Post clearly plans to bet big on infusing artificial intelligence into its products, it wants to emphasize the human element of its journalism.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the multi-pronged initiative is enough to turn the Post around. Needless to say, Lewis and the newspaper’s management team have their work cut out for them, as evidenced by the poor state of affairs that Lewis himself revealed to his staff. But the new editor expressed confidence that these measures will put the Post on the path to success.

“I really hope that at some point in the future, when you look back on this day,” he told employees, “it’s actually a pretty important day in the history of our company.”