Staffers at The Washington Post anonymously piled on their boss, Sally Buzbee, who just surpassed one year as the paper’s executive editor.
In a profile published in Vanity Fair, Buzbee received on-the-record praise by other top editors but not so much among the rank and file.
“Many staffers I’ve spoken to are still trying to get a handle on the paper’s leader,” Vanity Fair staff writer Charlotte Klein wrote Sunday. “She’s warm and animated but almost politician-like in her ability to talk a lot without revealing what she actually thinks.”
One Post reporter swiped Buzbee’s more hands-off leadership style following her very-involved predecessor, Marty Baron, telling Klein, “It’s a place that is perhaps unusually attached to taking direction from the very top. … So to not have that, I think, is very unsettling to a lot of people.”
Multiple staffers “grumbled” over the extended timeline it took for Buzbee to address the paper’s social media policies, particularly following the Twitter turmoil among colleagues spearheaded by fired reporter Felicia Sonmez, one staffer telling Klein, “The fact is the leader of the newsroom let this fester for her first year.” Buzbee herself acknowledged that public infighting was a “painful episode” for the Post.
Buzbee has been facing internal blowback over her decision to rescind a promotion offer from “Style” editor David Malitz, who was implicated in a controversy surrounding tech columnist Taylor Lorenz, who had publicly blamed her editor for including an erroneous statement in her story. Klein reported that Buzbee was “personally involved” in the hiring of Lorenz, who had joined the Post earlier this year following her stint at The New York Times.”
Klein wrote that the incident “opened the floodgates for members of Style who’d evidently felt neglected by Buzbee during her first year and were now even more skeptical about her leadership.”
“‘I frankly don’t read you’ is the vibe you got out of her. … We know we’re second-class citizens, but to see it kind of confirmed that way was just so disappointing to all of us,” one described “disillusioned” reporter told Vanity Fair.
Buzbee admitted the “Style” section of the paper “wasn’t something I’d focused on yet” and that “There’s no question that I sort of awkwardly did this” but added, “I’m going to be open even if sometimes that’s messy.”
Several editors, however, did herald Buzbee’s leadership. Deputy national editor Philip Rucker called Buzbee “calm and decisive,” praising her physical presence in the newsroom that remains largely vacant due to the COVID pandemic.
Senior managing editor Cameron Barr touted Buzbee’s mission for a more “inclusive, collaborative environment” in the newsroom while chief product officer and managing editor Kat Downs Mulder praised Buzbee’s willingness to seek input and suggested her “different” approach is a welcoming change, noting that both she and her boss are moms.
A spokesperson for The Washington Post declined to comment.
The Washington Post suffered a string of blunders earlier this summer. The paper was forced to issue an editor’s note to a 2018 op-ed penned by Amber Heard after a jury found that it was defamatory against her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, who she accused in the paper of being abusive during their marriage.
Shortly after, the Post’s star columnist, Lorenz, faced backlash for falsely claiming she had reached out to YouTuber personalities she had written about in a story (she said her editor placed the erroneous statement in her report).
Then reporter Felicia Sonmez publicly shamed her colleague, Dave Weigel, for retweeting a joke that mocked women, which led to his one-month suspension. But Sonmez continued her rampage against other colleagues even after Buzbee urged her staff to be respectful to one another. Sonmez was later terminated for insubordination and the reporter is seeking to get her job back with the help of the paper’s guild.