On a recent morning in July, about 250 Washington Post staffers gathered to discuss the state of democracy, and in particular, how the newspaper is handling it After, who proclaimed “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as his official slogan during the Trump years, and won a Pulitzer last spring for coverage on January 6, recently formed a nine-person Democratic team within the National Desk, with reporters in Georgia, Arizona, and Wisconsin – swing states on the front lines of the struggle for voting rights. “The Democracy team is specifically focused on the idea that what is happening is an erosion of confidence and attacks on the credibility of the US electoral system.” editor Sally Buzbee told me during a recent visit to her office.
Most of the After staffers attending this editorial meeting did so via Zoom, while about 40 people gathered in person at the newspaper’s K Street headquarters, serving pecan and peach pie. questions poured in from all corners of the newsroom, ideas poured in via Zoom chat and Slack. It was the first of what the editor-in-chief Steven Ginsberg expect to become a monthly event. “It was an inspired discussion about the forces that threaten our democracy, who is behind them, who can lose from them and what we as journalists can do about it,” he told me. The idea for a clear Democracy team preceded Buzbee, the creation and execution of the effort taking place during her first year. “It’s a perfect thing for Sally,” said Ginsberg. “Bring the entire editorial team together, get everyone involved.”
Buzbee made history just over a year ago when she became the first female editor of the After, which for the previous 143 years had been led exclusively by white men, a few of whom were seen on screen as lions. There was Ben Bradlee, immortalized in All the President’s Men and The mail, as well as Buzbee’s predecessor, Marty Baron, in spotlight. Although Buzbee, 57, landed the job with excellent journalism credentials, having spent her entire career at the Associated Press, which she’s headed since 2017, she was relatively less well-known in the industry — absent from the shortlisted gossip. who published this outlet and others about potential Baron successors. However, in June, Buzbee came into the national spotlight through multiple stories amid a social media collapse at the paper: a “cluster fuck,” as one reporter described it to me at the time.
But so far, Buzbee hasn’t publicly discussed the social media turmoil, or talked in detail about her first year on the masthead, taking on both journalistic and organizational challenges, along with where she hopes the After She has so far focused heavily on redecorating the newsroom — “a lot of very unsexy infrastructure work,” she admits — along with navigating international crises, from getting journalists out of Afghanistan to setting up an agency in Kiev. to report on the war in Ukraine On the domestic front – apart from the Republican attack on democracy – there was the Supreme Court with a conservative majority that caused turmoil in American society by overthrowing roe deer, a never-ending cycle of mass shootings, and of course the pandemic, which has not only been an ongoing story to tell, but has also shaped the After‘s newsroom, and by extension Buzbee’s first year.
While Buzbee gets high marks from her top editors—more on that in a moment—many of the staffers I’ve spoken to are still trying to get to grips with the newspaper’s leader. She is warm and animated, but almost politician-like in her ability to talk a lot without revealing what she really thinks. “It’s a place that is perhaps unusually attached to taking leadership from the top,” said one After “So to not have that, I think, is very disturbing to a lot of people.” Some staffers grumbled that it took staff fights over Twitter to get Buzbee to prioritize new social media guidelines.
And Buzbee’s low-key style isn’t inspiring to some. Buzbee isn’t slick or flashy like some top editors who seem to like to deliver rousing speeches and barking orders in the newsrooms. “I’m not a very glamorous person,” she told me at one point during our conversation, adding later when I asked about an interview for the owner’s job Jeff Bezos‘s palatial Kalorama mansion: “I am a rather unglamorous and unexciting person.”
Certainly, much of the editorial uncertainty about who Buzbee is stems from the fact that staffers have had little physical interaction with her in the past year, as desks have been largely empty during a pandemic that saw new variants make even the best-laid return to ” There’s no doubt that this was the challenge of the past year,” said Buzbee, qualifying, “there would have been other challenges if it hadn’t been for them, so I really hate to moan about it.” we spoke, she seemed to envision a different start to the job anyway: “Walking through a busy busy newsroom gives you such an organic sense of who’s talking to whom and what the networks are and what the relationships are,” said she It “just took a little longer” to understand “the geography of the” After editorial.”