On Tuesday, the demanding, detail-oriented Baron was named the new executive editor of The Washington Post, and he will arrive for his first news meeting in January carrying respect from people who have worked with him at four major newspapers.
But he will also face anxiety among a staff that wonders whether his time at The Post will be defined by that sort of journalistic distinction or by deep staff reductions and the continued erosion of the newspaper’s franchise.
During Baron’s 11 years as editor, the Boston Globe’s newsroom staff was cut by 40 percent. And the paper’s prizes could not stop its financial decline. The New York Times bought the Globe for a record $1.1 billion in 1993 and decided not to sell it in 2009 after getting offers as low as $35 million.
“All news organizations are under tremendous financial pressure,” Baron said by telephone Tuesday. “I wish I could make that go away. The best I can do is work with the resources I’m provided. The resources will depend on the revenues of the company.”
He said that “as journalists, we have to be realists and face facts as they are and not as we wish them to be.” He added, “Undoubtedly it will require us to make some tough choices. . . . The key is to make the hard choices and make them well.”
By all accounts, Baron has done that.
“Marty is a superbly well-qualified and credentialed veteran newsman who’s been able to produce really outstanding journalism and deal with severe resource constraints at the same time,” said Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University Journalism School.
“I think his track record as a journalist speaks for itself,” said Katharine Weymouth, publisher of The Post. “He has overseen hard-hitting coverage at the Globe and before the Globe. That’s my priority: an editor who will continue the legacy of [former executive editors Benjamin C.] Bradlee, [Leonard] Downie [Jr.] and Marcus [Brauchli] to produce world-class journalism.”
Baron pursued the scandal about the sexual molestation of children by Catholic priests despite the tremendous pressure the church could bring in the heavily Catholic city of Boston. Walter Robinson, who headed the Globe’s investigative team that did the church stories, credits Baron with pushing the coverage forward. “In his first news meeting, he asked why a court had sealed the personal records of one priest,” Robinson recalled in an e-mail. “No editor here had noticed that, or thought we could get those records.”
The paper also won Pulitzer Prizes for its arts criticism, and recognition for its coverage of hometown presidential candidates John F. Kerry and Mitt Romney and of the arrest of James “Whitey” Bulger, the organized crime figure and FBI informant turned fugitive who became one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted.