Twenty staffers were abruptly laid off from The Washington Post’s free commuter paper Express when the tabloid permanently ceased production Sept. 12.
The paper laid off the Express staffers with little prior notice when Executive Editor Dan Caccavaro called an unplanned meeting of the whole Express staff Wednesday, Sept. 11, to announce for the first time that the paper would be closing the next day. Included in the meeting were Washington Post Human Resources Vice President Wayne Connell, HR Director Jennifer Legat and Managing Editor Tracy Grant, according to one staffer who requested anonymity.
The Post shuttered Express because it was not making the company enough money to sustain its production, according to the anonymous staffer.
“Basically they told us they’ve decided to shut Express down. They said that it was a financial decision, and that that day, Wednesday, was our last day,” the Express staffer said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “So, the article, the press release that they had, they went up while we were in that meeting which was kind of crappy.”
Express, which had been running as a subsection of The Post for 16 years, served Metro commuters across Washington, D.C. Commuters will miss the Express and the more than 70 people that were employed to pass it out to Metro riders each morning. District residents have been using GoFundMe to raise money for the distributors, who received no severance or advanced notice about their termination.
The goal of the fundraiser is to express support for the Express distributors, who were similarly caught off guard by the paper’s sudden end, according to the page.
“In order to help these kind-hearted individuals who brightened the day of thousands of commuters for many years, we would love to see the greater community come together and offer support in order to keep them on their feet while they look for new opportunities,” the GoFundMe reads.
Laid off staffers have received an outpouring of support from the community, many of whom say Express was a staple part of Washingtonians’ commutes on the Metro, according to the staffer.
“I loved working at Express because it was a part of people’s daily routines, and I loved seeing people on the Metro reading it and getting emails from readers whenever they would catch us in a correction,” the staffer said. “I loved — didn’t love getting corrections — but I loved seeing how invested our readers were and that if we did some small little thing they would always notice it.”
Though The Post did not give them prior notice of their firing, staffers did receive severance, and The Post’s union, The Washington Post Guild, has provided support, according to the staffer.
“We got a pretty decent severance package, so I don’t think any of us feel in imminent economic trouble,” they said. “But also the guild has done a really good job of sharing us.”
The Washington Post Guild condemned the shutdown and layoffs in a tweet that same day and petitioned The Post on Sept. 16 to rehire the staffers in other departments. Employees who are members of the guild receive preferential hiring at The Post when it hires for other positions, but this privilege does not automatically extend to Express staffers, who were excluded from the paper’s union agreement, according to a statement released by the guild.
“They were excluded from a union contract that would have protected them only by legal and bureaucratic fictions that labeled them a different entity within our company, though Post Express and The Washington Post are both owned by Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world,” the statement said.
Express distributor Hassan Nezhadessivandi learned about the closure Thursday, the day of the last issue, from reading the news online rather than from his supervisors at The Post.
Distributors established close ties with the commuters they served, according to Nezhadessivandi.
“It was a good job because I was interacting with people, and people who are nice,” he said in an interview with The Hoya. “But it affected me because I don’t get to see those people any more, and second, I’m out of a job. I don’t have money.”
The lack of notice by The Post has put him in financial jeopardy as distributors did not receive the same severance package, Nezhadessivandi said.
“It happened at a time when I was trying to catch up on my expenses because I have so many bills to pay,” he said.
Members of the community posted a GoFundMe on Sept. 12 to help support him, and it has already raised over 11,000 dollars, surpassing its 5,000 dollar goal. One commuter posted a sign at a Metro entrance thanking Nezhadessivandi and encouraged other riders to donate to his GoFundMe page.
The Express’ closure reflects a larger trend of print news publications struggling and shutting down across the country with weekday print circulation of newspapers in the United States decreasing by 12% between 2017 and 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. In light of this trend, the closure of Express is saddening, but not surprising, according to Georgetown University journalism professor Ann Oldenburg.
“I’m not surprised to hear that it’s closing up shop, but I am a little sad about it, just as I’m sad to see the size of many print newspapers shrinking and many local news publications suffering in cities across the country,” Oldenburg wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As we all turn to our phones for information, print just doesn’t seem a viable option. The cover of the last issue of Express lets us know that.”