By: Joe Strupp
The appointment of Marcus Brauchli as the new executive editor of The Washington Post drew support from the two men who have held that job for the past 40 years.
Current Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. and his predecessor, Ben Bradlee, both welcomed the appointment of Brauchli, the former Wall Street Journal managing editor who was named to the top post late Monday.
But only Bradlee saw the significance of bringing in an outsider. “It means that they didn’t have one homegrown who was ready,” he told E&P. “They didn’t think they had a guy ready. If they got the right guy, that is good. It is as simple as that.”
Downie, who would not comment on what role, if any, he played in the appointment of Brauchli, said the lack of Post experience is not an issue. “I don’t think that makes much difference one way or another,” he told E&P. “[Publisher] Katharine [Weymouth] looked for the best person she could find for the job.”
Weymouth, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, planned to introduce Brauchli to the staff at an 11 a.m. meeting. One source at the paper said the plan had been to announce Brauchli’s appointment today, but when word began to leak out Monday, the announcement was released then.
“It was being posted everywhere, you could find it in other places,” the source said. “We just felt it was time.”
Meanwhile, Post staffers offered optimism at the prospect of having Brauchli run the paper. Dana Priest, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and veteran of 22 years at the paper, said, “I think people are relieved that a decision has been made.” She also said the choice of an outsider is not a big deal, adding: “The Post has always been a reporter-driven paper. Everyone I know is certainly going to give the benefit of the doubt, and more.”
James Grimaldi, another Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter, said of Brauchli: “He has very big shoes to fill. So I wish him all the luck in the world, because the future of The Washington Post and — what Post journalism means — might very well depend on it.”
Post Media Writer Howard Kurtz, who wrote the Web story late Monday about Brauchli’s appointment, had to do so from Los Angeles where he is on vacation. He would not say if he had to rush it out to make the earlier release.
“I don’t know all the ins and outs on the timing of the announcement,” Kurtz wrote. “But I feel I had enough time to produce a thorough story, get it online and refine it for the next day’s paper.”
Downie had been at the paper since 1964 when he was appointed executive editor in 1991, after several years as Bradlee’s managing editor. Bradlee, a former Newsweek Washington bureau chief, had served as Post managing editor for three years when he became editor in 1968.
“Stability of the editors in 43 years is a good thing,” Bradlee said. “But it may stifle initiative a little. Downie and me were there for a long time.”
Still, Bradlee said Post experience should not be looked at as the most important element of a new editor: “If you have the right guy, you make him the editor. If you don’t, you go outside. I don?t think they had someone who was ready for it.”
Bradlee did not specifically mention Managing Editor Phil Bennett, whom Downie hired as his second-in-command several years ago and who was rumored to be a finalist along with Brauchli. Downie would not comment on the decision not to appoint Bennett.
Bennett did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday morning.
Downie said he had lunch with Brauchli during the interview process and believed he was a good choice. “I liked it a lot,” he said when asked about the appointment of Brauchli.
Downie declined to say how much he tried to influence the choice, if at all, stating, “I don’t want to discuss my conversations with [Weymouth]. We talked about the future of the paper. Figuring out the future of the paper and other platforms is very important and he has a strong journalistic background and has been a top editor of another newspaper.”
Downie said he had known Brauchli in the past, partially through a news sharing arrangement the Post and Journal had for foreign and financial news. He said that was discontinued when News Corp. bought the Journal’s parent company, Dow Jones, last year.
One change that will occur with Brauchli’s hiring will be the oversight of the Web site, which did not come under Downie’s control, but will be under Brauchli’s. “I think that is fine,” Downie said. “I don’t know what will happen physically, but we have been integrating [web and print] and will continue to.”
Adds Kurtz, “He seems to me to combine a wide-ranging intellect with a ton of experience in both reporting and editing. And if the future is increasingly on the Web, as everyone seems to think, Marcus feels right at home there. His biggest challenge, which he’s the first to recognize, is being new to the Washington Post culture and to the city itself. That will require a period of adjustment on both his part and in a newsroom full of journalists who have never met the man and don’t know much about him.”