By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Marcus Brauchli was named executive editor of The Washington Post yesterday, returning him to the top ranks of American journalism less than three months after Rupert Murdoch forced him out as the Wall Street Journal's editor.
Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth announced that Brauchli will succeed Leonard Downie Jr., who has run the newsroom for 17 years.
When the handoff occurs Sept. 8, Brauchli will become only the third person in the paper's top job since Ben Bradlee was given the position in 1968. He will be the first from outside the corporation since shortly after Weymouth's great-grandfather Eugene Meyer bought the paper at a bankruptcy sale in 1933.
"It's both a privilege and possibly the most intimidating thing I've ever done to think about coming into an institution with such deep and proud traditions as The Post," Brauchli said. "It's going to be a challenge, obviously, to adjust to a new culture. . . . I'm anticipating having to go through a steep learning curve at hyper-speed."
In choosing the 47-year-old Brauchli, Weymouth, who is 42, completes a generational shift. Downie, 66, was named editor by her uncle Donald E. Graham, 63, The Washington Post Co.'s chief executive, when he was publisher.
Weymouth called Brauchli "a strong and visionary leader" who is "smart and able" and "places the same emphasis on quality and accountability journalism as we do. . . . I have found him to be a straight shooter and a good listener."
In reaching beyond the company for a new leader, Weymouth, who became publisher in February, signaled that she wanted to shake up the existing order and speed an eventual merger with the paper's separately managed Web site. Brauchli combined the print and online newsrooms during his year-long tenure in charge of the Journal; Weymouth put him at the head of both operations at The Post, supervising the current Web site editors.
Despite The Post's culture of "promoting from within," Weymouth said, "I thought that we could benefit from someone who would come in and look at what we do with fresh eyes."
In her announcement, she said she would introduce Brauchli (pronounced BROW-klee) to the newsroom at a meeting today. Post Managing Editor Philip Bennett, who was also a contender for the top job, said he has made no decision about the future. Weymouth has encouraged him to continue in that role.
Brauchli's challenge is particularly acute because he has never lived in Washington, a city with a unique culture and customs, and he has not dealt with local news during his nearly quarter-century at the Journal, a national publication that is based in New York but which has no metro section.
Brauchli said The Post must straddle its dual roles as "the best source of information" for local news while providing a "definitive" account of national politics and policy. In an age when the Internet is dramatically extending the reach of newspapers while undercutting their traditional business model, he said, "journalists are going to have to be comfortable in multiple forms of media."
"My mantra has been, we are not defined by medium, we are defined by our approach to journalism. If The Washington Post, which has a very strong brand, can reach people who want sound, thoughtful, balanced journalism -- free of cant, free of slant -- they will come to The Post in print, online, on mobile phones, expecting those qualities."
Paul Steiger, Brauchli's predecessor as the Journal's editor, praised his wide range of experience, "having done everything from very heavy financial and economic and market stories to the most swashbuckling, banana republic foreign correspondence. He relates well to people, and he learns fast."
John Harwood, a former Journal reporter now with CNBC, said Brauchli "is incredibly bright and able and someone who has a real sense of what the right news agenda ought to be." But citing Brauchli's lack of experience in the nation's capital, he added, "I'm sure people will be watching to see how quickly he gets the political story, the Washington story, both nationally and locally."
Some Journal insiders say Brauchli seemed increasingly unhappy working for Murdoch. "A lot of people thought being managing editor of the Journal meant running your own show, and it didn't," said Alan Murray, the paper's deputy managing editor. But he said working on the Web site under Brauchli was "delightful and empowering. He had a willingness to let me take the ball and run with it."
In accepting the job, Brauchli is joining a newspaper whose circulation has been declining and which has just completed its third round of early-retirement buyouts in five years but is also experiencing tremendous growth online. While the daily circulation is 673,000, the number of unique monthly visitors to washingtonpost.com is 9.4 million. On the journalistic front, the paper won six Pulitzer Prizes in April.
Shortly after Brauchli resigned from the Journal, Graham called Steiger to inquire about him. Weymouth then called Brauchli, saying she was seeking advice from a wide range of people about The Post's future, and they met at the Off the Record bar at the Hay-Adams hotel. After he had a series of further meetings with Weymouth, Downie and other Post executives, Weymouth called him in New York and offered him the job.
A veteran foreign correspondent who reported from 20 countries in 15 years, Brauchli spent most of his career at Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company.
While growing up in Boulder, Colo., where his father was a lawyer and his mother a community activist, Brauchli gravitated toward writing at a young age. He worked on his junior high and high school newspapers and also freelanced and took pictures for the Boulder Daily Camera. He did the same at Columbia University, working at the student paper, as a stringer for the Associated Press and as a copy boy for the New York Times, where he did legwork for local reporters.
Brauchli took a year off from college to work at the Denver Post and as a weekend producer for the city's NBC affiliate before graduating from Columbia in 1983, in the same class as future U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, although their paths did not cross.
The following year, Brauchli became a copy editor for Dow Jones Newswires, and within months he was dispatched to Hong Kong, where, among other things, he covered the fall of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. For a decade and a half, other than a year at Harvard for a Nieman journalism fellowship, Brauchli moved from one Journal posting to the next: Stockholm, Tokyo, Shanghai. He covered the inflating of Japan's financial bubble and its subsequent collapse.
Returning to New York in 1999 as national news editor, Brauchli quickly rose through the management ranks. He became global news editor in 2003 and deputy managing editor in 2005 before edging out a more experienced rival to succeed Steiger last year.
Brauchli was offered that job one day after Murdoch's News Corp. made a $5 billion bid to buy Dow Jones from its longtime owners, the Bancroft family. As part of the eventual deal, Murdoch agreed that he would retain Brauchli and two other top editors and that an independent committee would have to approve any hiring or firing for those positions.
But after Murdoch took control in December, Brauchli found himself being undercut by the new publisher, Robert Thomson, the former editor of Murdoch's Times of London. Brauchli was caught between Murdoch's push for rapid change -- which included a newsier front page, shorter stories and more coverage of national politics -- and much of the staff, which wanted to preserve the Journal's traditional role as a business newspaper specializing in long narratives. Brauchli became a middleman, trying to accommodate the new owner's demands while, for example, protecting the quirky front-page features known as A-heds, which Murdoch had criticized.
In April, Thomson and Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton told Brauchli it might be better for the Murdoch team to have its own person running the paper. Brauchli agreed to step down and become a News Corp. consultant, receiving a payout, negotiated by Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, that the New York Times estimated at between $3 million and $5 million. Such payments to departing senior executives had been approved in advance by the Dow Jones board and come with a standard non-disparagement agreement, barring criticism of the company.
"What was important," Brauchli said, "was the Journal, not me -- that the editorial integrity be preserved, not that my job be preserved. . . . Fighting for my job would have been mostly selfish and undermined the fight to maintain quality journalism."
The independent committee was not notified until Brauchli's departure was a fait accompli, and it took no action after Brauchli told its members that his resignation was not the result of editorial interference.
But Brauchli drew criticism, from outsiders and some Journal staffers, for quietly stepping down. Dean Starkman, a former Journal reporter, wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that when confronted with a difficult choice, "Marcus Brauchli took the easy way. . . . Had NewsCorp. taken over Washington Post Co. under the same terms . . . would Downie have handed over control of the Post's legacy without recourse to a committee that was put in place to protect his autonomy? Or would he have stood up to Murdoch?"
Harwood said, "There's no question there were a significant number of people at the Journal who were angry with him for having left as quickly and in the way that he did."
Brauchli, however, said there was no reason for him to protest. "I never saw any evidence that the owners had tried to impose ideological or commercial agendas on the news coverage," he said.
At The Post, the downtown D.C. newsroom and Arlington-based Web site have sometimes been at odds. When Brauchli combined the two operations at the Journal, he added blogs, such as the online version of Washington Wire, and found the subscription-fee site infused with new energy.
"It wasn't so many years ago that print reporters seemed to their mostly younger, online colleagues to be Gutenberg Bible-era troglodytes," he said. "No more. Many reporters want to do video, produce photo galleries, concoct interactive features that will engage readers."
Brauchli has two daughters, ages 8 and 6. He is married to Los Angeles Times reporter Maggie Farley, who is the paper's U.N. bureau chief.