Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan Exits to Lead Reagan-Funded Civil Center

"The decline in civility has become a toxic and coercive force that threatens social interactions and weakens the underpinnings of our democracy," Ryan said.

Fred Ryan, who has worked as publisher and chief executive of The Washington Post for nine years, is leaving the company on August 1, the paper announced today (June 12). He will lead the Center on Public Civility, a new initiative that aims to “promote constructive solutions to address the deep divisions and discord in America.” The Center will be funded by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute (RRPFI), of which Ryan is board chairman

Fred Ryan looks down.
Fred Ryan began as publisher and CEO of the Washington Post in 2014. Getty Images

Patty Stonesifer, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will serve as interim CEO starting today, according to the Post. The Post is owned by Jeff Bezos via Nash Holdings LLC, and Stonesifer is also a member of Amazon’s board.

Ryan cited his growing concerns about the state of society as his reason for leaving the Post. “Many of us can recall an era when people could disagree without being disagreeable,” he said in a memo. “Political leaders on opposite sides of the aisle could find common ground for the good of the country. Today, the decline in civility has become a toxic and coercive force that threatens social interactions and weakens the underpinnings of our democracy.”

The new Center intends to address these issues by conducting research, educating students and hosting thoughtful conversations between political leaders, among other objectives, according to the Center’s statement.

The journalism industry has seen a slew of executives leave their publications in recent months. CNN chief executive Chris Licht stepped down on June 7. Editors-in-chief at Wired and Quartz announced their resignations just days earlier, along with the senior managing editor at the Post. High-ranking editors at The Wall Street Journal, the Journal’s magazine and USA Today are also out. The exits emphasize the challenges publishers face, including a downturned advertising market and competition for user attention.

Ryan’s departure is unrelated to the recent downturn, he told the Post. “I have no doubt that the high-quality journalism of the standard of The Washington Post will always be successful,” he said.

What did Fred Ryan accomplish at the Post?

In Ryan’s tenure at the Post, he oversaw the company’s transition from print to digital, and the newsroom grew to double the 600 it had in 2014. The publication won 13 Pulitzer Prizes under his oversight. Ryan also launched the Press Freedom Partnership, a Post-led coalition of non-profits working to defend press freedom around the world. He has been an active voice in calling to release detained journalists, including Evan Gershkovich, the Journal reporter who is being held in a Russian prison.

“Fred has led The Post through a period of innovation, journalistic excellence and growth,” Bezos said in a statement. “His focus on the intersection of journalism and technology has been of great benefit to readers and has laid the foundation for future growth.”

Who is Patty Stonesifer?

Stonesifer, whom Bezos called a “longtime friend” in his statement, comes from outside the journalism world. She previously worked at Microsoft, where she was the highest-ranking woman at the time, and as chief executive of Martha’s Table, a non-profit that provides childhood education and food distribution services in Washington, D.C. She is also active in philanthropy, both offering her private advising services and holding board positions with a series of non-profits. She has been on Amazon’s board since 1997.

Ryan will remain as publisher until August but is stepping down as CEO immediately. Stonesifer will help Bezos choose a new publisher and chief executive, he said in the statement.

Washington Post CEO Fred Ryan Exits to Lead Reagan-Funded Civil Center