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New Washington Post editor Matt Murray meets staff after abrupt Buzbee exit

Matt Murray, named as a new top editor of The Washington Post, speaks to staff Monday morning. Sitting at right is publisher and CEO William Lewis.    (Robert Miller/The Washington Post)
By Sarah Ellison,Jeremy Barr and Elahe Izadi Washington Post

Matt Murray, named as a new top editor of The Washington Post, vowed Monday to uphold journalism standards during a staff meeting that turned contentious when employees peppered publisher and CEO William Lewis with questions about a company reorganization and the abrupt replacement of executive editor Sally Buzbee.

“This is change about growth,” said Murray, a former editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal. “It’s change about the future. It’s change about building on The Post and taking it to the next generation and enhancing the legacy of the place.”

Lewis, who previously worked with Murray at the Journal, called him “a proper journalist who loves causing trouble and working with fellow editors and reporters, and an old-fashioned editor who will edit each day.”

But Lewis refused to answer specific questions about the decision-making behind Buzbee’s departure, which came as a surprise to the staff when he announced it in a Sunday night email.

“I really enjoyed working with Sally,” Lewis said. “I wish it could have gone on for longer, but it couldn’t. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to take that bit of the conversation any further.”

He did, also, apologize for the manner of the announcement. The news “began to leak out, which is why we had to scramble.”

Buzbee, the first woman to head the news operations of The Post, has not responded to requests for comment.

As recently as this weekend, she had given no indication that she would be leaving. On Saturday night, she attended the White House News Photographers Association award dinner, where she chatted with Post journalists and sat next to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

She told Post department heads late Sunday in a brief call that she had been presented with a reorganization plan that she didn’t want to be a part of, according to three people familiar with her remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak.

For weeks before the announcement of her departure, though, Lewis had made inquiries to potential candidates to succeed Buzbee, according to people familiar with his discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect confidential communications.

Buzbee was not present for the staff meeting Monday but received a healthy round of applause from Post colleagues, who questioned her treatment by company leaders.

Murray was replaced as the top editor of the Journal in early 2023 after nearly five years but remained at parent company News Corp in an advisory role. He had been in discussions for another job opportunity, but as those deliberations wore on, he decided to accept Lewis’s invitation to join The Post, one of those people said.

In his own remarks, Murray, who spent 29 years at the Journal, focused on the future, which he said will meld the legacy of The Post with a forward-looking approach to news.

A native of the Washington, D.C., area, Murray said he doesn’t plan to remake The Post in the Journal’s image - and that The Post is the newspaper that made him want to work in journalism.

“I’ve been in the business long enough, and I’ve done enough things that I’m not interested at this point in managing decline,” Murray said. “I’m interested in the future and growth. … This is going to be an exciting time. We’re going to have a lot of new opportunities and new things.”

Murray will serve only temporarily as Buzbee’s replacement, Lewis announced Sunday. After Election Day, he will hand over the reins of leadership for the newsroom’s core reporting areas - including politics, investigations, business, technology, sports and features - to Robert Winnett, a British journalist who is currently the deputy editor of Telegraph Media Group.

At that point, Murray will shift over to serve as the leader of a new company division, loosely described by Lewis on Sunday, that will focus on service and social media journalism.

Lewis previously worked alongside both Murray and Winnett - the former when he was publisher of the Journal, the latter when he was the editor of the Daily Telegraph.

During Monday’s meeting, one staff member highlighted these connections, as well as Lewis’s past remarks about his commitment to diversity.

“The most cynical interpretation sort of feels like you chose two of your buddies to come in and help run The Post,” she said. “And we now have four White men running three newsrooms.”

Lewis has referred to the new division that Murray will oversee as a “third newsroom” - distinct from the news operations that will eventually be helmed by Winnett, and distinct from The Post’s opinions section, which has always operated separately from news and which will still be overseen by David Shipley, its leader since 2022.

Lewis also reaffirmed his commitment to diversity while acknowledging the reality of his new hires: “I’ve got to do better, and you’ll see that going forward.”

In his brief remarks, Murray did not share his specific editorial priorities, though he mentioned a few specific stories that will be top priorities for The Post, including the presidential election, Donald Trump and the trial facing Hunter Biden.

“The Post has such a great legacy, a history and tradition of great journalism in the past and right until this morning,” he said. “There’s so much outstanding work that comes out of this newsroom. I’m humbled and proud to be a part of it.”

The decision to change editorial leadership and create a new division was part of Lewis’s new strategy for The Post, which focuses on reaching new audiences and rejecting a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for serving readers and attracting new customers.

But, Murray said there are no plans to blow things up for the sake of doing so. Going forward, Murray said the mission at The Post “will be to take what we do and really translate it the right way.”