Is Marty Baron, the storied executive editor of The Washington Post preparing to step down?
The rumor of Baron’s impending departure, either late this year or in early 2021, has been circulating through the paper’s newsroom for at least the past four months, prompting active speculation about who might succeed him.
Baron’s retirement, presumably at age 66—after eight years on the job and more than two decades of leading newsrooms at the Post, the Miami Herald and the Boston Globe—would constitute a massive transformation almost as disruptive as the Graham family’s sale of the paper, after 80 years of ownership, to Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. Baron is such a luminary in journalism circles, he was portrayed by Liev Shreiber in the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight.
Since he became the Post’s top editor in January 2013—seven months before Bezos’s $250 million purchase—Baron has presided over 10 Pulitzer Prizes and overseen a journalistic renaissance at a newspaper that had undergone a series of painful staff reductions before Bezos showed up and invested money and technological expertise into his new media property. Baron has said that the Post is not dependent on Bezos’ largesse and currently turns a profit.
Around the time that Baron turned 65 last October, he met with a group of Post editors who came away with the impression—from his answer to a question from one of them—that he just had shared his plans to retire after this year’s presidential election and before the 2021 inauguration, according to multiple Post staffers who spoke to The Daily Beast.
A Post staffer who spoke more recently to Baron about his retirement plans, meanwhile, said he offered a more expansive timeline for his departure.
“He said he will be here at least through the next inauguration—that’s what he assured me,” said this staffer, who, like others who spoke to The Daily Beast, asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to comment on sensitive personnel matters. “Maybe he was pretending that he was still thinking it over, but he sounded like he didn’t want to stay past that… It could also be something that could be announced after the election.”
In emails to The Daily Beast, however, Baron insisted that he’s made no hard and fast decisions about the timing of his retirement and cited his July 2019 statement to Politico’s Michael Calderone that he’s “‘definitely staying through the 2020 election,’ but says he’s ‘made no decision beyond that and have committed to giving plenty of notice when I do decide it is time to retire.’”
“That statement captures what I said then and have said consistently since,” Baron emailed, adding, “No, I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been consistent all along.”
Yet, in private conversations with staffers, Baron has not been coy about his intention to move on in the relatively near future.
“Marty has been saying he’s gonna retire for the past three years,” said one Post staffer. “He said he was gonna retire on his 65th birthday. I asked him once, ‘Can you really walk away from this at this time, when all these things are happening?’ And he answered, ‘You know, I’ve been the leader of one news organization or another for a very long time.’”
Unlike The New York Times—which, if tradition prevails, will see its executive editor, Dean Baquet, step down in less than three years before he turns 66—the Post doesn’t have a traditional retirement age for its top editor. The late Benjamin C. Bradlee, for instance, stayed on as executive editor until age 70, stepping down in September 1991.
Baron—who since 1976 has worked in various capacities for the Miami Herald, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times—became the Herald’s executive editor in 2000 and in July 2001 accepted the top editor’s job at the Boston Globe, where he pushed his reporters to uncover the sexual abuse scandal in Boston’s Catholic archdiocese, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation dramatized in Spotlight. He ran the Globe newsroom for a dozen years.
At the Post, Baron has earned the admiration of his newsroom, if not its universal love. “He’s gruff,” said a longtime Post editor, contrasting Baron’s introverted persona with that of the charismatic celebrity-editor Bradlee. “He’s not in any way a people person. He’s respected but not beloved.”
These days, however, “Marty is a guy who wants to have a life,” said a longtime friend, noting that Baron, who has never been married, enjoys an active social life with a variety of close friends. “He loves to travel. He’s got a place up in the Berkshires that he doesn’t visit nearly often enough.” Upon leaving the high-pressure daily grind of running the Post, “I think there would be a number of cushy gigs for him.”
This person added that if a new president is elected, or even if Donald Trump wins a second term, “This is the period he thinks makes the most sense for a new editor—a fresh horse.”
Among Baron’s potential successors, according to newsroom speculation, are two of the Post’s three managing editors—Cameron Barr, who supervises the daily news report, and Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, who oversees the Post’s digital and video operations, and national editor Steven Ginsberg. The third managing editor, Tracy Grant, is in charge of newsroom personnel and apparently not in contention.
Other names in the mix include former Post deputy national editor Anne Kornblut (a Facebook news-curation executive since 2018) and longtime Post staffer and former managing editor Kevin Merida, who since late 2015 has run ESPN’s “Undefeated” blog on the intersection of sports, race and culture. (Merida would be the first African-American to be the Post’s executive editor.)
Yet Post Publisher Fred Ryan, who didn’t respond to a phone message left with his assistant, has been hoping to persuade Baron to stay on, according to Post staffers, and “Jeff Bezos adores Marty,” said one, noting that Baron and Ryan meet regularly with the world’s richest human to discuss business and logistical issues.
“The real newsroom favorite,” said an editor, “is for Marty to stay on.”