Washington Post staffers gathered Tuesday in their newsroom to learn officially that their executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, was stepping down at year’s end. From Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth and Post Co. Chairman & chief executive Donald Graham, they heard a great deal of praise for Brauchli and for his successor, Boston Globe top editor Martin Baron.
All the praise crowded out more useful content, such as plans or explanations. Weymouth deflected a direct question about the motivation for the leadership change, insisting she’d speak individually with folks.
In a Thursday e-mail to the Erik Wemple Blog, Weymouth wrote, “I am not planning to issue any more public explanations. I did walk the newsroom a bunch yesterday(didn’t manage to get time today but will tomorrow as well) talking to people one on one.”
Weymouth told the assembled group on Tuesday that Baron had done outstanding work at the Globe with limited resources, a comment that gave strength to rumors and reports that Brauchli went out fighting to maintain newsroom resources.
That story line gained another foothold today, after a report that Brauchli’s wife had written (and later removed) a Facebook posting asking, “[H]ow has the Washington Post of Watergate fame become the place where you can’t speak truth to power?”
There’s no reason to doubt management’s protestations that they admire Baron’s journalistic chops. Nor is there any reason to doubt management’s protestations that they admire Brauchli’s journalistic chops. Hence the speculation that Baron’s fame as a scrupulous and efficient budget-slicer made him an obvious choice as a replacement.
As far as his cost-cutting abilities go, Baron says, “I don’t know that I’ve exhibited any genius” in that area. On the broader issue of newsroom sizing, he went on a sustained riff:
“The resources we have will be dependent on the revenues of the company. That’s as true of The Washington Post as it is true of the Boston Globe,” he says. “People will know where the resources are headed when they look at the revenues. It can’t be otherwise. No institution can spend more money than it has. That means it’s not easy, it’s painful. But it is what it is and we have to confront those kinds of realities. . . . It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and I don’t like it. I’ve done my share of mourning as well, but at the end of the day, you have to make some decisions. It’s my responsibility to make sure that we make those decisions.”
Take your pick of terms to describe that spiel: Honest, refreshing, sellout-ish. I’ll take “depressing,” because Baron, in uttering it, sounds more like a publisher justifying staff reductions than an editor taking over a great journalistic property. Weymouth has said that she’s not bringing Baron on board to “make cuts.” Perhaps, but he’ll surely be around to articulate a compelling defense once those inevitable cuts hit the Post newsroom.