On Monday, the New York Times announced another successful poaching operation: David Segal, a New York City-based reporter for the Washington Post’s Style section, would be joining the Gray Lady as a business features writer.
The Times’ press release reflects an institutional expertise in crafting job descriptions. Segal’s new gig, it says, will be to produce “online features built around narratives about compelling people and issues in the business world. These enterprise stories, combining text and video, will spotlight major players as well as creative, entrepreneurial, and groundbreaking personalities who may be floating beneath the headlines.”
Clearly a job Segal couldn’t refuse.
Whatever the carrot, Segal is leaving his Post job at the right time. Style has been in managerial limbo for months now, starting in the spring, when the section’s top editor, Deborah Heard, announced she’d be taking the paper’s early retirement offer. A dear figure among her staff, Heard will depart in early December.
Yet staffers like Segal have no clue what’s coming next. The future of Style is tied up in ongoing discussions over the Post’s new world-conquering strategy, a document that is awaiting a top-to-bottom edit by the paper’s very top managers. The section could undergo a merger with the paper’s “soft” news sections or participate in some other corporate gymnastics routine—and will almost certainly shrink over the next year or so.
None of which, says Segal, factored into his decision to jump. “I kind of decided that I didn’t want to factor fear in at all,” says Segal.
The thing he did factor in was New York. Over the past four years, he has fallen in love with the city and wanted a permanent posting in a New York newsroom. “I miss having a big room full of reporters,” he says.
In making the switch, Segal walks a path worn by several accomplished Post reporters, including Michael Powell, Peter S. Goodman, Jo Becker, and Mark Leibovich. When asked about the desertions from the Post, Segal cites the Big Apple. “They send them to this city and the city grows on them,” he says.
Powell wouldn’t dispute that characterization: “There’s no doubt over the many years that NYC has become a roach motel for Washington Post writers—they tend to enter and never leave,” he writes via e-mail.
Yet to suggest that the problem boils down to better bagels and bridges is a bit simplistic. When asked why he went from one rival to the other, Goodman wrote as follows: “I made the leap because it was a bummer to be at a great, great newspaper full of enormously talented people that was so panicked about the declining financial prospects of newspapering that it was eating itself. I got tired of being asked to account for why a lunch with a source cost $57 instead of the mandated $50, and could I maybe sleep at my editor’s house instead of a hotel when I came to DC for reporting.”