Why Patty Stonesifer Agreed to Become the Washington Post’s Interim CEO

From a Washington Post story by Herb Scribner and Elahe Izadi headlined “Why Patty Stonesifer said ‘yes’ to becoming the Post’s interim CEO”:

The Washington Post’s new interim CEO is a former Microsoft executive who helped Bill and Melinda Gates start their global nonprofit foundation. She has served on the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents, headed a local Washington charity organization and has been on Amazon’s board of directors for nearly three decades. But what Patty Stonesifer emphasized most Monday while meeting The Post’s staff was that her job with the news organization is temporary.

“We have a couple really important jobs to fill [at The Post], starting with the publisher and CEO, and a couple of other big roles,” Stonesifer said in an interview Monday afternoon, noting that she will help Post owner Jeff Bezos, a longtime friend, pick his next publisher and CEO. “There are changes across the organization the last couple of years, and just ensuring the team and the culture are in place for the decade ahead is really the number one goal.”

Stonesifer’s appointment came with the news that Post Publisher Fred Ryan will step down from the helm after nine years. Ryan will depart in August, but Stonesifer will begin work immediately.

Addressing The Post’s newsroom staff with Ryan soon after the announcements, Stonesifer said Bezos asked her to oversee a smooth transition for the company. (Neither Ryan nor Stonesifer would comment on when those conversations began.)

“I had no reason to say yes,” she told the newsroom, noting her age, 67. “But this place makes me say yes.”

In an interview, noting that she had been on the job for “41/2 minutes,” Stonesifer spoke of Bezos’s commitment and interest in The Post. “For the past 10 years, he has talked about it all the time,” she said. “He is very dedicated to the mission and the quality.”

Stonesifer, who lives in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood with her husband, the journalist Michael Kinsley, told the staff that she is an avid, longtime reader of The Post on all its platforms, digital and print.

“I am one of those people who devours the Metro section every morning,” she said in the interview — and talked up the breadth of the newsroom, including its politics coverage, its health and wellness reporting and the Style section.

Stonesifer insisted she will only be at The Post on an interim basis, which “could be as short as six months, or it could be longer,” as her goal is to make sure “the team and the culture are in place for the decade ahead.”

Her mission is to “build the team and build the morale,” she said.

Stonesifer’s life has intersected with journalism in different ways. In 1974, after she graduated high school, she attended Butler University as a journalism major, but then dropped out three years later to marry her first husband.

She returned to college at Indiana University, which didn’t have a journalism major at the time, and said she turned to the tech industry “fairly quickly because it was a new and growing space,” she said. “I always rode the line between the people using and consuming the technology and the people building it.”

While at Microsoft, where she held a number of executive roles, she worked in interactive media and through that, met Kinsley, who approached Microsoft about building out Slate. (The two married in 2002. “There are a lot of journalists at my kitchen table regularly,” she said.)

She retired from Microsoft at 40, after working closely with Melinda and Bill Gates, and was asked to be the founding CEO of their nonprofit. “We shared a passion for a lot of the same issues around social change and social justice,” she said. Although the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wasn’t focused on journalism, Stonesifer said, she saw the importance of journalism in spreading awareness about pressing humanitarian concerns.

After she left the Gates Foundation in 2009, she became heavily involved in local affairs and community life in the District, serving as CEO of the nonprofit Martha’s Table from 2013 to 2019. She served as regent and chair on the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents from 2000 to 2012, and chaired the White House’s Council for Community Solutions from 2010 to 2013.

Stonesifer said she was beginning a “listening tour” right away to learn the ins and outs of the company, the challenges facing the industry, and ideas for the future. She’s looking to hear both from people currently at The Post as well as “those who have done it before,” such as former publisher Don Graham, whose family had stewardship of The Post for 80 years until Bezos bought it in 2013 and installed Ryan as publisher in 2014.

Stonesifer will search for a replacement amid a stormy media landscape. She has never led a news company, but in her capacity as a tech executive, she has seen how industries weather upheaval before. She recalled when the focus at Microsoft was on desktop applications, “and then along came a thing called the internet,” she said in Monday’s interview. At Amazon, the focus was on the core website, “and then the cloud comes along.”

“We’re having those same things happening now, with people talking about and understanding the opportunities and risks of generative AI and different business models, and each of these are challenges,” she said. “This is part of being an important institution that leads the way, which is to take advantage of and understand these changes, and find ways to use our best assets to lead again in the near future. I think The Post is well positioned to do that.”

Will Sommer contributed to this report.

Herb Scribner is a breaking news reporter for features at The Washington Post. He previously worked at Axios, where he wrote about breaking news in politics, entertainment and sports.

Elahe Izadi is a reporter covering media and also co-hosts daily flagship podcast “Post Reports.” She joined The Post in 2014 as a general assignment reporter, and has covered pop culture, Congress, demographics and breaking news.

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