McManus, Former ‘LA Times’ D.C. Chief, Wanted To Leave Post In 2005

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By: Joe Strupp

Doyle McManus, who last week gave up his 13-year post as Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief to become a columnist, says he first wanted to step down as far back as 2005.

But then-Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet talked him into staying through at least the 2008 election, McManus said. “I felt 10 years was enough and at some point you run out of gas,” he recalled about the situation three years ago. “I wanted to have a conversation about how I could help the paper in some other capacity.”

McManus, who first took the bureau chief role in 1995, said Baquet, now Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, talked him into staying at the time.

Baquet confirmed the previous discussions. “Doyle and I did talk about his moving on to write a column, or taking some other big but different role at the paper after this election. I thought he would be great. He’s a fine writer. He understands the world, Washington, and California,” Baquet said in an e-mail to E&P Thursday. “He was a hugely successful bureau chief. But he expressed a desire to do something different.”

McManus gave up the post last week just a day after Cissy Baker, a longtime Tribune broadcast executive, was named as bureau chief overseeing all newsgathering in the bureau that includes the Times, Chicago Tribune, and other Tribune papers.

“Nobody should have the same job forever,” McManus said. “Long ago, when I started with it, I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was a university president who had just left the post. He said when you start up one of those jobs, every one is your friend. With every decision, someone goes from being a supporter to being a detractor. It is very difficult to be effective in the same job for a long period off time. I am clearly past my ‘sell-by’ date.”

McManus, whose first column will run in January, said the conversations about giving up the bureau chief post continued after 2005, noting “I have always been interested in the idea of doing a column, trying to compete in that very challenging subset of Washington columnists,” he said. “It was happenstance that my informal benchmark coincided with the Tribune decision to change the way Washington bureaus were organized. It did not make sense for me to run the Washington bureau.”

In addition to the Times bureau chief post, the Chicago Tribune bureau chief position, vacant for the past two weeks, is also being eliminated.

“It will be a combined bureau,” McManus said. “As far as I know, Cissy is the overall chief of the combined bureau. For Tribune, having me in there would have potentially sent a confusing message or a mixed message.”

In addition to those changes, more Tribune Washington cutbacks are expected, although none have been formally announced. Chicago Reader reported this week that five Chicago Tribune Washington staffers were axed and eight Los Angeles Times D.C. scribes were let go.

Tribune officials were not immediately available for comment Thursday.

McManus, meanwhile, can concentrate on his first columns, he said, in addition to speaking engagements. “I am going to figure out how to do it,” he joked about the column. “Trying out different versions of it. Get some in the can so when we launch it, we have a running start.”

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