By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Despite warning signs, Lewis may prove to be an inspired choice as Post publisher

Will Lewis (photo via LinkedIn)

The Washington Post has named a new publisher to replace Fred Ryan, who left earlier this year amid widening losses, falling circulation and a reported rift with executive editor Sally Buzbee. Ryan will be succeeded by Will Lewis, and there are some flashing lights we ought to pay attention to.

For one thing, Lewis was knighted by King Charles III on the recommendation of Boris Johnson. For another, he is a former top lieutenant to Rupert Murdoch, although he denies that he and Murdoch are close. Weirdly, a Post profile of Lewis says that “Lewis disagrees with media descriptions of him as a former ‘Murdoch lieutenant,’” but it’s a simple fact. It doesn’t mean that he still speaks to Murdoch or that he doesn’t have his own set of values.

Lewis is the founder, CEO and publisher of a project called The News Movement, which the Post describes as “a social-first media business providing nonpartisan news to Gen Z.” The homepage offers BuzzFeed-style clickbait, but Lewis also has a background in serious journalism.

In other words, there are warning signs, but Lewis may turn out to be an inspired choice. That said, Post owner Jeff Bezos’ hiring record is mixed. Ryan always struck me as not quite right for the job, something confirmed by former executive editor Marty Baron in his book “Collision of Power.” Among Ryan’s last acts was presiding over the death of the Post’s gaming vertical, one of the few features the paper offered that appealed to a younger readership.

Bezos’ pick for editorial page editor, David Shipley, has not improved the Post’s opinion section, which, with few exceptions, has been dismal for many years. The jury is still out on Buzbee. She was well-regarded in her previous job as executive editor of The Associated Press. Her performance at the Post strikes me as solid, but I’m not sure what her vision is. Perhaps her tense relationship with Ryan held her back.

Final fun fact: The New York Times beat the Post in breaking the news about Lewis’ hiring. Yes, I know it can be difficult to report on your own institution, but good grief.

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6 Comments

  1. Steve Jones-D'Agostino

    What do you know about the Post’s plan, under its new leadship, to rebuild its paid print/online circulation, gross revenue, and net income? Or has Bezos been subsidizing the Post and planning to continue doing so regardless of those three factors?

    • Dan Kennedy

      The Post has been engaged in some pretty serious cost-cutting since it started losing money. Lewis’ job will be to return it to profitability. The Bezos subsidy has always been greatly exaggerated.

  2. MERRILL BROWN

    Dan, you never really make the case for why it could be an “inspired choice.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      Too soon to tell!

      • Jonathan R

        So, innocent until proven guilty?

        Appropriate standard for imprisoning someone but not for choosing leadership of important media institutions (or other august posts).

        He is a Murdoch lieutenant.
        As you note, he “weirdly” thinks he can get away with denying the fact.
        Sadly, he may be able to.

        Looking forward to your follow up: Despite lack of baseball knowledge or people skills, Jonathan may be an inspired choice for Red Sox GM.

  3. John Driscoll

    You’re making me feel better about this than when I read about it. Given his background, I remain concerned this is part of the plan to make the Post a WSJ or NYT competitor at the expense of local coverage.

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