Spin Cycle

11.13.12

New Washington Post Editor Faces 'Tough Choices'

Boston Globe's Marty Baron taking over newsroom hurt by cutbacks

The Washington Post, after a difficult four-year retrenchment, has tapped Boston Globe Editor Marty Baron to run the newsroom.

Baron replaces Marcus Brauchli, the onetime editor of the Wall Street Journal, who has had a difficult tenure in presiding over deep cutbacks in the newsroom made famous by Watergate.

The Post has "a defining and distinctive role" in covering politics and policy, Baron told me Tuesday, even as he acknowledged that "running a newsroom is a challenge these days. We're all confronted with financial pressures. You see it happening at the New York Times as well, the networks, magazines, even websites.

"It's not easy being an editor. I don't ask for any sympathy. But we will have to make tough choices...I can't duck those decisions. There's pain involved with that. We're journalists--our job is to deal with reality."

Baron is a lifelong newspaperman, highly respected in the business. He has been the Globe’s editor for more than a decade and held top jobs at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Brauchli is stepping down after a series of disagreements about the paper's strategic direction with Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth. Both sides came to believe that this was a good time to make a change. Weymouth had nothing but praise for her handpicked editor on Tuesday.

"Our priority is producing world-class journalism, and Marty has a proven track record to carry out the legacy of Ben Bradlee, Len Downie and now Marcus," Weymouth told me. "I need an editor who can run a big newsroom and has serious journalistic chops. He's a clear standout on that score."

The paper has been searching for a successor to Brauchli, who will stay on as vice president of the Post Co. and evaluate new media opportunities. Post Managing Editor Liz Spayd is also leaving.

The decision by Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth, who hired Brauchli, could reinvigorate a newsroom where morale has been depressed as print circulation has fallen, big-name reporters have departed and the paper’s domestic bureaus have been shuttered. (I am among the alumni, having left the Post in 2010.)

Baron, 58, emphasized the importance of the Post's digital efforts. "It's tremendously important. It's our future. I could say it's our present. We're a digital world. That's where people are going."

The Globe, owned by the New York Times Co., is a paper that thrives on politics. The Globe won six Pulitzer Prizes during Baron’s tenure—including a public service medal for exposing sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church--even as it became more local in focus and grappled with its own cutbacks.

Brauchli joined the Post in 2008 after Rupert Murdoch forced him out as editor of the Journal, which he had recently bought. Brauchli faced a tough challenge in succeeding Downie, who grew up at the Post and ran the newsroom for 18 years, and who in turn succeeded Bradlee, who was executive editor for a quarter century.

As an outsider with a low-key personality, Brauchli had worked for a business newspaper with no local staff. And his hiring coincided with a revenue collapse in the newspaper industry, leading to several rounds of painful buyouts.

"I truly think Marcus has done a tremendous job in the last four years under very difficult circumstances," Weymouth says. "He came in just before the economy fell off a cliff. His expertise in business news really had a tremendous impact. Marcus really has the newsroom firing on all pistons."

Brauchli's view is that he changed the culture of the Post, merging its print and digital operations, even as he had to cut the staff by more than one-fifth. The Post website had 21.5 million unique visitors last month, making it second among newspaper sites only to the New York Times, even though the paper is only sold in the D.C. metropolitan area.

But its daily circulation, once over 800,000, dropped 9 percent in the most recent reporting period, to 462,000. And while the paper enjoys a national reputation, it is that print edition—and covering the District, Maryland and Virginia—that generates 75 percent of its revenue. And that will be a major part of Baron's mission.

Baron confessed to conflicting feelings about leaving Boston. "It was a difficult decision," he says. "I love working here and I love the people I work with. I take enormous pride in the collective achievements of the people in this newsroom."