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On July 8, Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth introduced the paper’s new editorial boss, Marcus Brauchli. As she made remarks about her choice, she read from a carefully prepared script, leaving nothing to chance. Brauchli stepped up to deliver his remarks, which he read from a carefully prepared script, leaving nothing to chance. They both bolted without taking questions from the assembled reporters and editors.
Ever since, the entire city has been riveted by speculation about who will benefit and who will suffer in the transition from longtime Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. to Brauchli. The answers follow.
Why is Brauchli a winner? Well, he gets to helm a 700-strong newsroom coming off of six Pulitzer victories in the spring, and his bosses are a family that has long shelled out for great journalism.
Now, on to the real reason: He was facing oblivion before he caught on with Weymouth.
In late April, he had resigned as the top editor of the Wall Street Journal, a much-discussed event that came four months after the august publication was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. On his way out, Brauchli pocketed between $3 million and $5 million in go-away cash, according to the New York Times.
His departure earned him the enmity of many colleagues in the newsroom who felt he’d sold out the Journal’s independence. Brauchli says that Murdoch & Co. didn’t encroach on his editorial prerogatives, a statement made specious by claims he’d made to his colleagues shortly before resigning. In visits to WSJ’s Los Angeles and San Francisco bureaus, Brauchli reportedly bemoaned his declining lack of control over the paper.
Along with the money, Brauchli accepted a consulting gig with News Corp., passing along advice on how the company can leverage its various assets in Asia—in other words, a wonderful docket of face-saving work.
And this make-work was about all Brauchli had going on till the Post job came along: “That was a very interesting project that they put in front of me at the time I resigned, and I agreed to do it,” says Brauchli.
When pressed on whether he had anything else cooking, Brauchli again spoke of his News Corp. exit project.
Back in April, Jaffe, Washingtonian media critic/crime reporter/real- estate correspondent/political analyst, slammed Downie Jr. for snubbing his calls. Wrote Jaffe in a Washingtonian blog:
<9.000000>“I have appealed to you with handwritten notes. I have left phone messages with your assistant. I have sent an e-mail every time I have written something that might concern you or benefit from your comment.
“You have not responded. Period.”
So does the Brauchli regime mark an era of fresh access for the sharp-elbowed Jaffe? “I don’t know him, and I assume that it’s a clean slate with everyone,” says Brauchli.
National, Foreign, Financial, Sports, Style, Investigative desks…Essentially Every Desk Except Metro
In her announcement touting Brauchli’s hiring, Weymouth abridged the new editor’s journalistic accomplishments: “Marcus oversaw the Journal news operations, both in the U.S. and internationally…oversaw planning for a new luxury lifestyle magazine that will launch this coming September…as Global News Editor, Marcus oversaw the redesign of the Journal’s Asian and European editions…as Global News Editor, Marcus oversaw the redesign of the Journal’s Asian and European editions…Tokyo…India…Shanghai…Suharto…sectarian strife.”
Hey, where’s the part about his award-winning City Hall coverage or his groundbreaking investigation of local nonprofits?
When asked about the dearth of local bona fides in his curriculum vitae, Brauchli replied, “Look, I clearly have a great deal to learn about Washington, and I look forward to getting to know the city and the people who live there.”
He’d better. After all, there’s a whole bunch of Washington Post Co. muscle who’ll make sure that the Brauchli Post doesn’t stray from the corporate biz model, which goes heavy on regional penetration. Downie, known in the newsroom as a great champion of Metro coverage, raised eyebrows when his now-departed top national editor, Susan Glasser, was pulling assets from other parts of the paper, including Metro.
The Glasser model may align with a fantasy of Brauchli’s. Long before taking the Post job, Brauchli told a peer or two what he’d do if he ran Washington’s dominant daily: blow up the Metro section, a source recalls Brauchli saying, and just make the paper all about politics.
When asked about such comments, Brauchli said he’s “not even sure exactly what I said,” noting, “I didn’t spend a whole lot of time focusing on the Post before I came here, and I think the Post has to find a path that makes sense for readers and for its readership here as well as outside the Washington area.”
Some Local Tailor
In the characterization of one Post staffer, the sartorial tastes of the newsroom’s top officials are “very Macy’s.” Punch Brauchli into an image search on the Web, and you’ll find a man considerably more debonair than his predecessor—he wears cuff links and impeccably tailored suits made by his Hong Kong-based tailor. The nice duds, he says, were “camouflage” during the years he lived in Hong Kong and Tokyo and covered finance.
Downie, by contrast, wore Merrells when he wanted to “give my feet a treat.”
Brauchli’s goals in terms of appearance should be pretty easy to achieve: “I’ll make every effort to adapt to Washington and its dress code,” he notes.
In her statement announcing Brauchli’s ascension, Weymouth credited the former Journal big shot with quite an accomplishment: “He led the integration of the Journal’s print and online newsrooms…”
A story in Editor & Publisher quoted Brauchli as follows: “I melded the newsrooms and it worked tremendously well. It showed that they can work together.” These are both critical claims for anyone who’s going to manage the Washington Post, which poses perhaps the greatest Web-print melding challenge in all of newspapering today. The two sides are hunkered down on opposing sides of the Potomac, and they fight and gossip over everything. Merging the two is a job fit for the industry’s greatest converger.
And on this front, Brauchli has been a tad oversold. The quote in E&P, says Brauchli, is “a misconstruing of what I said.” (Reporter Joe Strupp of Editor & Publisher notes, “We reported what he said to us, and I believe it reflects the view from many that he had a major impact on the Journal’s Web/print convergence.”)
Weymouth’s boast, as well, may have reached a bit too far. As Brauchli himself points out about the Journal’s melding, “It began under [Brauchli predecessor Paul] Steiger, continued under me and it continued under Robert Thomson. It was not something that happened in one fell swoop,” he says.
Upon introducing her choice to helm the Post newsroom, Weymouth made one thing clear: It’s BROW-klee, not BROCK-lee.
OK, but the proper pronunciation requires so much more work than the vegetable one. And then people just sort of lapse, or call him “Marcus.” At one point, I was on the phone with one of his former colleagues, and I fumbled with the pronunciation of “Brauchli.” The former colleague commented, “Yeah, we’ve never gotten that right, either.”
Says the editor: “I call myself BROW-klee and other people call me BROCK-lee, and I respond.”
Leonard Downie Jr.
When asked whether he was pushed out of his dream job, Downie replied, “This was a mutually agreed thing.”
That, of course, is what they always say. Yet in this transition period, Downie has sounded a lot like a fellow who understands that at age 66, with 17 years at the helm of the Post, it’s time for a change. Whenever asked about his feelings, Downie has insisted that he’s fine. Fine with relinquishing his position. Fine with letting someone else handle the ever-more-Web-intensive publishing environment. Fine with moving on to an emeritus position—vice president at large—in the Washington Post Co.
But there’s one part that he can’t possibly be fine with—and that’s giving up the job two months before a historic presidential election. That’s like editing a 13-part series on who killed Chandra Levy and bailing at Chapter 10. “Will I miss it? Of course. But is it a big problem for me? No,” says Downie.
Leaders of Bethesda
Brauchli is planning to move into the Westmoreland Hills section of Bethesda. Now, there’s no evidence that Brauchli has ever abused his powers as a high-flying journalist for the benefit of his family, friends, or neighbors. But he doesn’t have to. All he has to do is move in. The teachers who teach the family’s two children will feel the heat—add another hour to lesson planning! And what about area politicians? Won’t they have to step it up a bit? “In a word, no,” says Roger Berliner, who represents Westmoreland Hills on the Montgomery County Council. “I am blessed with having Supreme Court justices and congressmen and lots of influential [people].…I am pleased that they find our community desirable…but it will not fundamentally alter how I see or perform my duties.”
Fan covers China for the Post. The top editor at her paper is now a guy who knows more about China than he does about his own neighborhood. Think the new guy will be scrubbing the dispatches from Beijing?
This guy Brauchli isn’t the media reporter’s ideal power broker. Though he’s highly accessible and nice, he doesn’t say the stupid things that translate into pageviews—not that his predecessor ever did, either. He’s cautious in the most annoying of Graham family traditions. For instance, I asked him whether the Washington Post’s offices must remain within D.C. boundaries, given all the talk of a merger with the Arlington-based Washingtonpost.com. The response: “I’m going to decline to answer all questions about the Post or what might happen at the Post. The right thing for me to do is focus on what is and try to understand why things are the way they are.” Great.