Pay, Diversity and Retention at The Post

Pay, Diversity and Retention Testimonials

When new hires first walk into The Washington Post, they are often told about the newspaper’s storied legacy as a family-owned company, an institution known not only for its prestigious journalism but also for its sense of community. They’re told The Post is a place where they can grow, lead and succeed.

Yet over time, many talented members of The Post’s staff end up feeling short-changed, stuck and, in some cases, pushed out of a workplace that was once their dream destination. Too often, these employees are people of color.

The Washington Post Guild interviewed current and former employees from different departments of the newsroom, as well as from the Commercial side of the company. In roughly two dozen interviews, current and former employees described a workplace that failed to live up to the promises made by management. Nearly all asked for their names and certain identifying details to be withheld, out of fear of personal and professional repercussions.

The experiences described here are not exhaustive and cannot possibly represent all of the experiences employees from different backgrounds, races and gender identities have while working at The Post. However, every effort was made to be as inclusive as possible and to showcase testimonials that represent a larger pattern of concern.

Employees described a workplace structure that, on certain teams, stunted opportunities for career growth. In the newsroom, a perceived lack of upward mobility is especially prevalent among employees in roles created since The Post’s shift to a digital-first strategy. These teams, from Audience to Video, have been essential to The Post’s evolution from the local paper of record to a national — and increasingly global — digital news product. Employees across the newsroom spoke of persistent pay inequities and, as the Guild’s 2019 pay study highlighted, a system that encourages staffers to seek outside employment offers as incentive for pay raises.

Many of these employees also sensed an expectation to take on additional labor because of their specific backgrounds — in mentoring and recruiting people of color, in providing translation services, and in ensuring Post news coverage represents the full breadth of its readership.

On the Commercial side, these pay inequities are exacerbated by a lack of transparency about how to achieve merit pay raises, employees said. Some employees of color in departments such as Circulation, Advertising, Accounting and Operations have described feeling stuck in low-level positions without clear pathways for growth, and without the necessary training to thrive in digital spaces.

Management has responded to some concerns by introducing programs such as the newsroom’s Opportunity Year, in which a few employees are selected annually to work in a department different from their own — but what happens after the year’s end remains unclear. Some other efforts, such as the confirmation bias training sessions held this year, have also fallen short of addressing company-wide systemic issues, such as pay disparities.

A number of employees feel that they must leave The Post to advance their careers but that the company’s underinvestment in training has made them less competitive in the job market.

The reasons people leave The Post go beyond pay disparities and career growth. Current and former employees of color also spoke of a lack of diversity among high- and mid-level management, a gap in representation that ripples down through the ranks. Some detailed a culture that leaves people of color, women and gender-nonconforming employees feeling demeaned, undervalued or marginalized.

Veteran Post journalists recounted a newsroom that was once seen as a national model for people of color in leadership positions. From the 1980s up until the Great Recession, Black journalists in particular held prominent, visible roles, heading some of the biggest departments and holding many other senior leadership positions.

But amid the painful job cuts of the 2000s, many mid-level managerial and editing roles were eliminated, chipping away at the pipeline of Black leaders who could rise through the ranks. Many people point to the departure of Managing Editor Kevin Merida in 2015 as a tipping point.

“The problem isn’t that Kevin left,” said one Black journalist with a lengthy career at The Post. “The problem was that once he left, there was no one else.”

Many who have left The Post in recent years, particularly people of color, have risen to leadership positions and produced award-winning work at competing organizations.

Why is The Post losing this valuable talent? The following testimonials offer some insight.

Career development and advancement

In interviews, staffers described structural problems within certain teams of the newsroom that leave employees with few options for growth and upward mobility. Others described a system that offers promotions and high-profile opportunities to a select few, while denying those same opportunities to people of color and women. Some employees said that while they have felt supported by their direct supervisors, those managers are often limited in their power to promote career growth.

Within the newsroom, this lack of upward mobility is especially a concern with digitally focused roles, such as those in the Audience department. Some current and former employees on the Audience team described feeling a lack of respect and buy-in for their work from colleagues and managers.

Since 2020, at least 10 employees from the Audience team have left The Post for jobs with competing news outlets. More than half were either women or people of color. Many of them left for jobs at the New York Times, positions that would grant them not only a promotion in title and salary but also a greater sense of agency and resources to pursue and lead projects.

Many of the employees who left were top leaders within the Audience department. The department has lost six managers — including its department head — to competing news or digital organizations. All but one were women or people of color.

A White woman who worked as a social media editor for several years before leaving said she felt “stymied at every turn” when she tried to pursue reporting. She pointed to a bias against Post employees in “digital” roles and said she “felt gaslit” into believing “I was not a writer, not a reporter. I was not a journalist.”

“I was frequently offered editor positions or leadership positions, but definitely in the audience, digital world,” she continued. “When I would say, ‘Oh, I want to be on staff as a writer and reporter,’ people would be like, ‘Oh, we can’t do that. There’s no way to do that.’ It was so disheartening to me.”

A 31-year-old Black former employee who worked in digital operations said he had editors and people in other roles on his team who were “interested and wanted to learn more about” digital work. But they faced hurdles en route to that goal because their mandated work was largely tethered to the print product.

He described a department-wide concern that “people had trouble getting support to report.” If someone were to ask him now about whether to apply for a job in his former department, he said he would warn them: “You’re going to be pigeonholed.”

“I don’t know if you want to do that long-term,” he added. “None of us want to do that long-term; we’re not supposed to do it long-term.”

He named others from the same department who have since left The Post because, he said, “there was nothing they could do.”

A woman of color under 30 described her time at The Post as “pretty fraught, to say the least.”

She worked on a team she described as one of the most diverse and made up of the youngest employees. She said she admired the team’s then-leader for what she believed to be a deliberate and intentional hiring process.

Their work also came with a feeling that if you were on that team, the “expertise is just not valued in the larger newsroom.”

“They don’t see the work we did as worthwhile," she said.

The woman recalled a time she flagged a headline that included what she said was offensive language to multiple editors — but her point of view, and the request, was dismissed.

She ultimately left The Post after an interview process she felt “could have been handled better.” The former head of the department chose the day of her final interview to share something that shocked and upset her. She felt a former manager she interviewed with at the time could have been more considerate during the interview process, including in handling interactions between her and other job candidates.

The relevant managers “could have been more tactful in terms of protecting me. I know this is a business relationship, but I had worked there for years and they had seen me progressing on this path for years. They knew how badly I wanted it.”

At that point, she was already producing work for the team she was interviewing for, on top of her main job responsibilities.

She said, while talking about the experience, that “what this is bringing up for me is the memory of feeling like there are people The Post decides they want to succeed.”

Soon after not getting the job, which she called “one of the biggest heartbreaks of my life,” she got a different job and left The Post. She worried about being “shadow-banned,” or pushed into a job she didn’t want.

Frustrations over career advancement and being granted opportunities for growth are not exclusive to those in digital roles. Reporters in other areas of the newsroom said they also felt pigeonholed.

One reporter who left The Post after six years said she was routinely discouraged from pursuing high-profile stories and beats, and pushed off areas of coverage that she was responsible for when high-ranking editors would take an interest in stories on her beat. Instead, she added, those stories were given to colleagues who were disproportionately White and male.

“Early on, someone explained to me that part of it was just the A1 system,” the female journalist said, referring to the front page of the newspaper. “And I accepted that at the time, but it made me mad later.”

Meanwhile, she said, the stories she wrote on the same topics were rarely elevated to the front page or given the same resources and attention that similar pieces by her colleagues seemed to receive.

She said she was left with “scraps of something that used to be my beat” and a damaged sense of confidence that ultimately hurt her job performance.

Another former employee, a woman of color who worked as a reporter, left The Post when she was in her 30s because, she said, “I was still treated like a kid. I was still treated like a junior reporter even though I had eight years of experience.” She noticed that her male counterparts were given more opportunities to do longer-form stories and deeper pieces, while she was expected to focus on daily blogging. She said she would hear, “We kind of want a bigger story out of this so we’re going to give it to someone else.”

“They picked the people they wanted to promote, and that was it,” she said. “There was no clear way to break into that echelon. Maybe it’s because I got hired so young they never let me get any older in their brain.”

Many former and current employees of color in particular spoke of feeling stuck in tedious jobs or on less-desirable shifts while other colleagues moved up more quickly.

One former reporter, a Black woman, came to The Post as a newsroom fellow and was assigned to work nights. She accepted the arrangement, she said, under the false impression that she would be able to transition out of those shifts when a new fellow was hired.

Instead, the reporter continued in that role as two more fellows were brought on and given more desirable shifts, she said. In an effort to improve her situation, she pitched a new beat but was denied. Years later, after she left The Post, the beat she pitched was created — and given to someone else.

This reporter was never offered an opportunity to work her way off the night shift, she said, nor given a clear path for advancement. When she received an offer to leave The Post, she said, her Black colleagues were the first to encourage her to take it.

“There was this sense of: This is just the way it is, this is the plantation,” she said. “My mom did not raise me like that. I was not raised to be complacent. So I left.”

Employees outside the newsroom described similar dynamics.

A Black woman who worked on the business side of the company for nearly two decades said she sensed an “invisible glass ceiling” for The Post’s Black employees. She began to work at the company fresh out of college and, within a few years, realized “who were the people receiving the awards, who was receiving the promotions, who was receiving the recognition.” Most of them didn’t look like her.

She couldn’t find room to grow, she said, largely because management didn’t seem keen on creating those avenues for her. So she left. There are numerous departments responsible for keeping Post operations in motion, she said, but it can often feel as though the only valued positions are those that generate revenue, especially those within the newsroom.

When you’re in a position outside the newsroom that doesn’t generate revenue, the woman continued, “you’re in this bubble all by yourself.”

“How do you describe a feeling of knowing that no matter what you did, it was never going to be good enough?” she said. “It was in the air, just something you knew was there — that no matter what you did, they weren’t promoting people, they weren’t giving you opportunities, they weren’t giving you money.”

A Black employee in the Targeted Products group in Commercial recalled struggling to access training opportunities for new programs and production tools throughout his 14 years at The Post.

“The impression I got was: Anything you want to learn, you have to teach it to yourself,” the current employee said. “I just wasn’t in a place in my life where I could do that. I had just gotten married and had a kid.”

Over the years, he said, his growth within the company has been mostly horizontal, rather than vertical, even as he gained new responsibilities. “People left, and instead of hiring somebody, they slid it over to me,” he said. “It wasn’t like my position was growing.”

Newsroom employees echoed feelings of stagnation. One current employee, describing her experience as a designer in the newsroom, said that “a lot of people feel stuck.”

Working at a place like The Post as a younger person, “there’s a sense that it was once what you saw as your 10-year goal,” she said. “I got here, now what? Now I have to figure out a new 10-year goal. A lot of those people are in that ‘now what.’”

One former employee, a Black woman, said she never felt that The Post gave her agency over her own career path. When she was interviewing for her new job at a competing organization, she recounted how the new employer asked her how she wanted to grow professionally and quickly set up a development plan to work toward those goals.

She felt the new job would give her autonomy over her own career, “something I didn’t have at The Post.”

“At The Post I had community,” she said. “But I got so tired of being tired.”

Pay inequity

The Guild’s 2019 pay study highlighted troubling pay disparities across the company that left women and people of color earning less than their White male counterparts. In the study, employees described a system that encourages them to seek offers elsewhere to receive significant raises — additional labor on top of their day jobs in hopes that editors, fearing losing them, would pay them fairly.

Nearly three years later, employees said The Post has, in some cases, taken steps to adjust salaries in light of the pay study and recent pay reviews. But they added that the company has done little to address systemic issues that perpetuate these disparities. Meanwhile, employees have continued leaving the company to achieve salaries they feel match their worth.

In 2020, a female journalist in the Video department underwent the pay review process to confirm the creeping suspicion that she was being grossly underpaid. Her hunch was confirmed; she was underpaid in comparison to her colleagues, as well as in the context of a generalized market snapshot. When she got her results, she said, no resolution was offered.

Her editor had assured her that The Post would be able to close the pay gap, she said, but even after receiving a positive annual review, the gulf remained. “Now I’m looking for other jobs,” she said.

Managers at The Post, she said, led her to believe that if the pay review process revealed a disparity, it would be addressed. It was only after completing that process that she learned this was not the case. The Post’s internal pay review process should include a remedy in cases where it finds employees are being underpaid, she said.

“I like my job,” she said. “I like my team. I want to keep working at The Post. But not at this rate. It just doesn’t make any sense for my career.”

A female employee who was in a designer role for multiple years said she learned a male colleague doing the same job was making $18,000 more. This colleague started after her, and she said they had nearly the same amount of experience in design work. “I was floored by how much of a difference it was,” she said.

She said when she brought it up with a manager, pointing out to that supervisor that her current raises were too small to get her caught up, the manager was defensive. Later that year, she received a merit raise and an acknowledgment that there may have been a disparity, but she said it still left her thousands behind her colleague. She said she had heard from a manager that to make a big salary jump, “you have to go somewhere else and come back.”

There’s also the question of: “Where are you going to go?” she said. “There’s the New York Times or a start-up or something that’s not directly news.” This employee later switched roles within the company.

When it comes to pay discrepancies, middle managers are often unaware of how much their direct reports make, which can make it a challenge to identify disparities within their team — and take action to address them.

A manager in the newsroom said he was a “pretty new manager” when someone on his team brought it to his attention that she was being underpaid relative to the rest of the team.

An improvement in salary was made through the merit process in the initial months after the team member brought the discrepancy to his attention, and then the gap was closed over two years.

The manager said he felt “pretty in over my head as a new manager who hadn’t really dealt with this universe of money stuff before” and suggested that “specific training on how The Post thinks about this stuff internally” may have been helpful, in addition to knowing his team’s salary details upfront, which may make it easier to see such problems coming.

He said as he was preparing to become a manager, there wasn’t a lot of conversation or training about his team members’ happiness, any financial issues, or other personal or interpersonal problems that may arise.

“It was a useful reminder that my job as a manager extended beyond how well I was editing or assigning stories,” he said. “There’s a whole other dimension that has to do with their happiness in the job.”

The Black woman who was hired as a reporting fellow pointed out that fellows are hired at a much lower rate of pay than other reporters, putting them at an immediate disadvantage and creating a wide gap between them and their colleagues.

She had already left the company by the time the Guild’s pay study was published in 2019, she said, but reading it made her realize just how underpaid she had been during her four years with the company and more than a decade in journalism: roughly $30,000 less than the median salary for White women in the newsroom.

Another former reporter, a woman of color who had worked at The Post for 15 years, said she was barely making $80,000 by the time she left the company — ​​far below the standard of living for an experienced, college-educated professional working in D.C.

“It became apparent that I was making $40,000 less than comparable male peers,” she said. “After hearing about how much other people were making … watching other people buy homes was really emotionally taxing.”

She said she was a high-performing and productive reporter whose stories frequently wound up on the front page and drove large volumes of traffic to the website. “So many people would think you’re living this great life as a journalist and that you’re so successful,” she said. “But I never felt successful.”

When she received an offer for a much higher salary at another media organization, she had a conversation with a managing editor, whom she hoped would offer her a significant salary bump. The reporter didn’t want to leave and would have accepted less than the salary offered by the competitor, she said. But instead, she remembers that managing editor saying, “I guess I could give you $5,000. What do you want me to do, ask Marty [Baron]?”

“It was very off-putting and smug,” the former employee said. “To me that was very much a ‘We don’t care if you go.’”

It seemed to capture an attitude among managers that many of her other former colleagues also reiterated: “You’re lucky to be working here.”

Demeaning culture and discrimination

Many current and former employees, particularly people of color and women, described a workplace culture that at times left them feeling undervalued, unwelcome and demeaned. Some employees recounted remarks from supervisors that were insensitive and, in certain cases, racist. Many women of color in particular described being asked to do menial tasks that other colleagues at their level were not asked to do. Some said their work was met with far more scrutiny and doubt than that of their White male colleagues.

Many of these employees also said they felt they were taking on additional, unpaid labor by mentoring and recruiting journalists from underrepresented backgrounds, as well as by addressing problems in stories about communities of color written by their colleagues. Spanish-speaking newsroom employees described being frequently asked to translate interviews for colleagues’ stories in their free time and receiving little to no credit — or compensation — for doing so.

Even recent efforts to address unconscious bias have, in some ways, only exacerbated the cultural disconnect that employees feel. In mandatory training conducted by Human Resources, the company perpetuated some flawed ideas about why workplaces such as The Post are unequal and failed to discuss specific internal and external systemic issues, such as pay disparities, coverage holes and workplace discrimination.

Presenters compared the discrimination that pit bulls face to racism, struggled to come up with concrete reasons for why unconscious bias might account for gender disparities in the workplace and repeatedly described unconscious bias as "the biggest barrier to diverse teams." The company’s vice president of Human Resources, who was recently promoted, also seemed to suggest that bias was the natural, inevitable result of evolutionary biology. Yet social science research suggests the opposite — that biases are learned, not instinctive, and that the inequality we see in our society is the result of institutionalized prejudice.

From her very first day, the Black reporter who joined The Post as a fellow said, she was immediately made to feel as if she did not belong — and implicitly warned that she would be walking on thin ice for her entire career. She said she was repeatedly singled out during newsroom tours and asked questions about the Janet Cooke scandal — in which The Post returned a Pulitzer Prize Cooke was awarded for a story about an 8-year-old heroin addict that had been fabricated.

“By the fifth time, I remember thinking, ‘Wait, is Janet Cooke Black?’ Because I had never seen a picture, but once I was able to run back to my desk and Google her, it all made sense,” the reporter said. “That was my ‘Hello, welcome to The Washington Post.’ I hadn’t written a thing yet. I hadn’t typed anything on my computer, even, but I had been told several times that there was this Black woman who lied and wrote lies into the newspaper and got a Pulitzer and had to give it back. That just put it into the air, like, you will never be trusted. Everything you do will never be trusted.”

Despite having 15 years of previous newspaper experience, she said, she was routinely asked to complete menial and demeaning tasks that were not part of her job: picking up and delivering court documents to beat reporters, delivering equipment to reporters in the field, inserting photos and other multimedia elements into her colleagues’ pieces.

“Here I am, 15 years in the business, and instead of asking for my expertise as a journalist, I'm running errands,” she said.

According to this reporter, her direct manager behaved in ways that were dismissive, derogatory and cruel, and ultimately drove her to look for a new job. This editor no longer works at The Post.

“She really broke me,” she said. “I would cry every night after my shift. There were afternoons I just didn’t want to come into the building, it was so demeaning.”

Since 2020, four out of 11 Black employees have left the Video department. A Black woman who worked in the Video department said other people of color at The Post warned her against taking a job on that team because her “life would be miserable.” She agreed with this assessment afterward, adding that conditions were “also at times [verbally] abusive.”

From what the woman could tell, White employees on the Video team were allowed more breaks and received more work opportunities overall. She was repeatedly confused for other Black women in the department and sometimes scheduled 30 minutes to cry before work.

Issues of insensitivity and a lack of inclusivity have also created an environment that gender-nonconforming and transgender employees said can feel unwelcoming or, at times, outright hostile. Though The Post has expanded internal identification options and allowed employees to display their pronouns on Slack, some employees have said other acts of inclusion — such as offering access to gender-neutral bathrooms — remain unaddressed.

One former employee who identifies as nonbinary said the culture of the newsroom made it feel impossible for them to come out to management during their time at The Post.

They said they felt it was easier to “change their gender performance” to accomodate or cater to managers, and pointed to a constant state of anxiety over to what degree being their authentic self would violate Post policies meant to maintain an appearance of neutrality among its journalists.

“It was implied that identity was going to be interpreted as bias,” they said. “I literally didn’t know if people were going to get punished for putting their pronouns on Twitter.”

Some employees said identity-based mistreatment extended to their journalistic work as well. A Black woman who no longer works at The Post said she felt her ideas often went unacknowledged or dismissed in meetings with her mostly White team, especially when they related to Black culture: “It was just so foreign to them, and they tore apart all my pitches.”

Even after getting a new job working with another desk, she said she kept getting pulled back to her old job when needed. A majority of the time, she said, she felt editors asked only women of color to work the weekend shifts, the night shifts and the holidays.

Another Black female reporter currently employed by The Post recalled finally landing her dream reporting job, after years of working in a role for which she said she was overqualified, only to be told she had to also take on some editorial aide duties because the slot that had been used to hire her had belonged to an editorial aide.

She felt these tasks held her back from her reporting job, the role for which she was evaluated annually. The duties also led other reporters and editors to ask her to take on other tasks an aide would have traditionally done, such as pulling photos for other reporters’ stories. She once had to tell a photo editor that she was not an aide. “And she was like, 'What are you?’”

The extra duties were taken off her plate after two years, and the reporter now feels she is able to tackle ambitious stories and own her beat in a way she couldn’t before in her more than a decade at The Post.

As a Black woman, she has often been the go-to reporter tasked with taking on stories about race. She said she has pitched stories that she knows other people on her team won’t do, but as a result, “sometimes I’m taking on more work than I really should.”

This additional burden was reiterated by another current newsroom employee, also a Black woman.

“I would get pulled a lot off my beat to cover stories they felt were important, and I was having to work double time … and doing the work multiple people would do to make sure I was checking all those boxes,” she said. “I find myself cutting corners for my job just to be able to do the stories I want to do,” while also working on stories her managers felt she should be covering.

Echoing her colleagues, a Black woman currently employed by The Post said she felt that “at times, The Post isn’t a welcoming environment for Black people, and I feel like we operate in fear of retaliation.”

*Note: Some of the people interviewed for this section were also interviewed for the Guild’s Black Caucus report on the Black experience at The Post.

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