In January, Jeff Bezos popped by the Washington Post—which he owns but rarely visits. He sat in on a news meeting, didn’t say much. Staffers crowded in, feeling panicky. Weeks earlier, Fred Ryan, the publisher, had announced there would be layoffs, then took no questions. Now an employee approached Bezos to ask about the cuts. “Believe me,” he replied. “I’m committed.” Within days, the Post laid off twenty people and said the paper would leave thirty vacancies unfilled. That marked the beginning of what has become media’s worst year on record for job losses. In August, Ryan left the Post; Bezos reportedly entered “a period of renewed engagement” with the paper; in October, the Post told staff that it would eliminate two hundred and forty more jobs, through voluntary buyouts. Across the industry, thousands of journalists, of every form, have been forced out of work. Blame has been placed on a tumultuous economy, plummeting ad revenue, a collapse in social media traffic. In conversations, there is often a sense of despair—but also a recognition that circumstances do not merely float in on the breeze; people make decisions, and those decisions have impact. Over the course of this difficult year, many in media have grabbed hold of that idea as a means by which to pull themselves out of the muck. They are turning to one another, and directly to readers. They’re trying new things. Not all of their experiments are viable, or even good. They’re still figuring it out—aiming, one way or another, to exert control over what comes next.
The Business Model Issue