The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Washington Post will end its Sunday magazine, eliminate positions

Executive editor Sally Buzbee said the magazine would end ‘in its current form’ after printing its final issue on Dec. 25

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post will stop publishing its stand-alone print magazine, one of the last of its kind in the country and which has been published under different names for more than six decades, the newspaper’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, announced Wednesday.

The Sunday magazine has 10 staff members, who were told in a meeting that their positions have been eliminated, according to Shani George, The Post’s vice president for communications.

“We will end the print Sunday Magazine in its current form as we continue to undergo our global and digital transformation,” Buzbee said in a subsequent email to staff early Wednesday afternoon. She noted that “we will be shifting some of the most popular content, and adding more, in a revitalized Style section that will launch in the coming months.”

“We deeply appreciate the contributions this staff has made to our print readers over the years,” she wrote in conclusion.

The Post launched the magazine in its current form in 1986, though it had published a print Sunday magazine for the previous quarter century. The magazine is distributed with copies of the Sunday paper. Its last issue will publish on Dec. 25, Buzbee said.

Buzbee praised the magazine this year in a town hall. “I think the magazine is doing an excellent job right now,” she said at the time, praising in particular a special issue dedicated to the decline of local news. She added that The Post was “committed to print” and said that the magazine was “a fabulous longform opportunity for us, and pushing that and making it into a distinctive destination is something we want to do.”

Along with the Boston Globe and New York Times, The Post had been one of the few remaining newspapers to publish a weekly magazine. They were once popular features for major metropolitan dailies — “prime real estate for long-form newspaper features, especially as they were surrounded by gorgeous ads for expensive condos and watches,” said Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a former editor for the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal. “Those ads have largely disappeared from most newspapers, and so have the magazines.”

And although newspaper journalists once craved the opportunity to write at magazine length, “that’s less of a priority now, given the infinite space available online,” he said.

Five of the 40 Washington Post stories that drew the most online readers over the past year were produced by the magazine. They include a profile of then-Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the tangled saga of several separated siblings reunited through DNA testing, and longtime staff writer David Montgomery’s portrait of the shifting political demographic in Wyoming, “the Trumpiest state in the nation,” as its voters turned on Rep. Liz Cheney.

In 2020, the magazine won a National Magazine Award in the single-issue category for the special issue “Prison.” The issue “was written, illustrated and photographed by people who have been — or are currently — incarcerated, allowing readers to hear from voices that are often invisible in the debate around prison and criminal justice,” The Post said at the time.

Buzbee told the magazine staff in a meeting that the decision was “no reflection on the quality of your work,” according to attendees who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal conversations. When pressed by the staff for details, she said “economic head winds” were a factor in the decision to stop printing the magazine. She said she took “full responsibility” for the move. Buzbee was flanked by newly hired executive features editor Ben Williams, whose department houses the magazine, and Krissah Thompson, the managing editor overseeing the features department.

The magazine won two Pulitzers, both for stories by Gene Weingarten, who won the 2008 feature-writing Pulitzer for a piece on a world-class violinist who played beautiful music in a subway station filled with unheeding commuters. He won again in 2010 for his piece on “parents, from varying walks of life, who accidentally kill their children by forgetting them in cars.”

Buzbee did not offer laid-off staff other roles inside the paper. She declined a request to be interviewed about the decision and referred follow-up questions to George, who said that restaurant reviews and the crossword puzzle will continue to appear in print. Popular features such as Date Lab will not continue.

The Post Guild issued a blistering statement slamming the move, saying it was “outraged” by it. “These talented, hard-working journalists have given years of their careers to this organization — crafting powerful stories, winning national awards and providing readers with a weekly dose of insight, creativity and joy.

“Post management has signaled that the magazine is being cut for financial reasons. But there is no economic justification for layoffs in a year when The Post has hired a record number of new employees,” said Sarah Kaplan, chief steward at the Post Guild, in a statement.

The Post first staked out Sunday magazine territory with Potomac magazine in 1961. Styled after New York magazine, the Sunday insert was partially an attempt to capture suburban readers and advertising dollars, according to a dissertation written by University of Maryland graduate student Jeff Lemberg in 2013.

While highlights included a 1973 profile by Bob Woodward on Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt, the magazine underwent multiple redesigns in a search for profitability. It adopted its current format in 1986 — a much ballyhooed relaunch that was initially disastrous, drawing months of protests from readers who decried as racist both “a cover story about a black New York rap singer accused of murder and a column sympathizing with Washington merchants who turn away young black men,” as The Post later recounted.

Many of The Post’s most lauded reporters contributed stories to the magazine over the years — Walt Harrington on the Bush family’s legacy of class privilege, Peter Carlson’s profile of a pre-politics Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Finkel’s portrait of a TV-addicted family, Marjorie Williams’s take on American divisions circa 1991, and Sally Jenkins’s bio of NBA star Kwame Brown.

Paul Farhi contributed to this report.

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