Five Named to White House Beat for ‘N.Y. Times’

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By: Joe Strupp

New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet has named his new White House team, which includes Peter Baker, Helene Cooper, Sheryl Stolberg, Jeff Zeleny, and Ben Werschkul.

Baquet revealed the assignments in a memo to staff today that also explains other bureau coverage.

It is posted below:

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Dear Washington Bureau:

It is obvious but worth repeating: Washington has never been under a lens like this before. We’re in the midst of an unprecedented shift in power that the world is closely watching, and economic chaos that has Washington at its epicenter.

And boy are we ready.

In announcing this list of new assignments I’ll steal a line from Bill: It’s a knockout cast.

Peter Baker, Helene Cooper, Sheryl Stolberg, Jeff Zeleny, and Ben Werschkul will cover the White House.

Even before Peter got to The Times he had a reputation as someone who could play the whole orchestra: write analysis, break news, and cover foreign policy. As all of you know, he has already lived up to that
reputation by, well, writing analysis, breaking news, covering foreign policy, and knocking out some terrific magazine pieces for The Times.

Helene Cooper is one of our finest writers. Her portrait of Condi Rice’s campaign to rebuild her image, and her lead role in the reconstruction of the diplomatic miscalculations that contributed to the Russian invasion of Georgia, displayed her ability to report and write compellingly about people and policy. She also has an eye for the fun story.

Sheryl is another of our finest writers. She has distinguished herself in various corners of Washington, including science, Congress, and the White House, and has displayed a talent not only for covering news and writing about policy in an engaging way, but also for seeing the personalities and ways of the capital.

No one knows the story of Barack Obama better than Jeff, who began following his career as a reporter for The Chicago Tribune. He is a hugely competitive reporter who after covering Congress jumped into the endless Obama campaign, writing about everything from his Blackberry addiction to the management of his campaign.

The appointment of Ben Werschkul to the paper’s White House team is a testament to the importance we place on covering Washington across all
platforms. But it is more than that. It is also a comment on Ben’s imagination and creativity. Ben’s job will be to expand what he did during the campaign where, for example, he used http://video.nytimes.com/video/2008/10/20/us/politics/1194826600863/a-less-guarded-barack-obama.html>video clips from 2001 to capture the “unguarded Barack Obama” before the crush
of attention created the very public figure we cover today.

That’s the permanent White House crew. In the meantime, Sheryl and the matchless Robert Pear will cover the final weeks of the Bush administration. Jackie Calmes will also cover the transition and the formation of an Obama White House, before taking on the job of covering the political economy, as previously announced in an appropriately glowing memo.

The White House crew will report to Dick Stevenson. I’ve been waiting for the chance to say in public what I’ve said to Dick in private about a hundred times over the past few months. He ran the best political coverage
the paper has ever had. He did it with great ideas, a sense of humor, and an ability to juggle competing demands and keep everyone happy. That is no
small feat. Everyone who worked with Dick came back and said they wanted more.

Obviously the story of Barack Obama is not just the story of policy and politics. It is also a story of culture and race, and of the impact his arrival will have on Washington and the psyche of the country. We’ve asked Rachel Swarns to take on aspects of that story, as well as close coverage of the First Family.

Rachel, who will work with Rebecca Corbett, is a wonderful writer who has already tackled some of these complex subjects, with stories about Obama’s
views and the competition among the city’s elite private schools to lure the Obama children.

Jodi Kantor, who wrote some memorable Long Run bio pieces, profiles and voters voices pieces during the campaign, will be writing profiles and other stories about Washington figures.

We will be making additional announcements about foreign policy coverage, and our plans for continuing to build on investigative reporting.

It will be fun to sit down in the coming weeks and brainstorm about coverage of the new Washington. None of these assignments forecloses
others from jumping into the game. In fact, I want everyone to get a chance to carry the ball. We should think creatively, break conventions, and take risks in coverage and storytelling. The coming years will be
hugely competitive, but they will also be a blast.

Dean

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