By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 14, 2009; A02
The Washington Post named two managing editors yesterday, one of them the first woman to hold that title in the paper's history, in an effort to speed the merger of the company's print and online newsrooms.
Elizabeth Spayd, who has been a top editor on both sides of the Potomac River that separates the two newsrooms, will be responsible for the hard-news sections of the newspaper, located on The Post's fifth floor. Raju Narisetti, a former deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, will oversee the fourth floor, which includes Style and other feature sections. Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, who made the announcement, is pairing a longtime insider with someone who is unknown to journalists at The Post.
Spayd, 50, said that it feels "pretty cool" to break the gender barrier and that she hopes to increase The Post's appeal to female readers.
Narisetti, 42, who was born in India, is the first minority to reach the second-highest editing rank at The Post. He launched a national business newspaper in India in 2007 after having worked with Brauchli in several roles at the Journal, where Brauchli was the top editor until owner Rupert Murdoch helped pressure him into leaving last spring.
"Liz knows the newsroom," Brauchli said. "She knows, I believe, how to think about both the print and online sides of the house. She's well respected and an accomplished journalist."
Narisetti "is quite a visionary in journalistic terms," Brauchli said. "He understands where the media is going. The combination of these two should prove very strong for The Post in the near term. In the longer term, both of these people are just outstanding journalists."
The Post has long had a single managing editor. "The challenges we face are very different than the challenges of the old days, when a more linear structure might have worked better," Brauchli said. "We deliver journalism on different platforms, and it's a 24-hour operation."
Asked about his decision to elevate a woman -- years after newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and USA Today had women running their newsrooms -- Brauchli said: "Clearly, it's a good thing. We aspire to have as many perspectives in senior jobs as possible."
Spayd joined The Post in 1988 as an assistant business editor. She later became a Metro reporter and an Outlook editor before taking charge of the national desk as assistant managing editor. In 2007, she moved to the Arlington newsroom as editor of washingtonpost.com, working under Executive Editor Jim Brady, who recently announced his resignation. Brauchli plans to name a successor to Brady.
Spayd said she is "thrilled" by the appointment and "honored to be handed such an important role." She said that sometimes the two newsrooms have worked well together, "but not always."
"There's a river between us," she said. "Most of the people have not worked in the other person's medium. But I very much believe we have a terrific Web site, and the bumpy road has gotten a lot smoother in the last couple of years.
"I'm not Pollyannish about it," she added. "We have a ways to go."
Steve Coll, a former managing editor, said Spayd excelled at handling "big personalities" on the national staff and played a key role in the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "She has a subtle intuition for where people's talents lay," said Coll, now a New Yorker writer. "She's tough-minded but does not insist on being the answer to every question herself. She worked from behind the curtain."
Karen DeYoung, a reporter and a former assistant managing editor for national news, said Spayd could "always make your story better" and could "get reporters who are locked in events to see the larger picture."
Asked about Spayd's reserved style, DeYoung said: "I think she is a little shy, but she is very funny."
Narisetti spent his first 18 years in India before enrolling in Indiana University in 1989 and earning a master's degree in journalism. The Indian American worked with Brauchli as a deputy national editor at the Journal, and again when he supervised the Journal's European editions from Brussels.
Narisetti resigned two weeks ago as founding editor of Mint. His blog on the Indian paper's Web site, A Romantic Realist, dealt with matters including "The Intellectually Bankrupt Indian Left" and "Tech Sex."
"When you're crazy enough to start a newspaper in 2007, you rethink a lot of the approaches to it," he said. "It gives you the luxury of a lot of fresh ideas that an existing newspaper doesn't have."
When it comes to merging the two Post newsrooms, Narisetti said: "I don't have all the answers. My responsibility is to help produce the right strategic answers." He said he is "a little nervous" and, as an outsider, faces "a short but steep learning curve." While teaming up again with Brauchli is a draw, Narisetti said, "it's very hard not to want to work for The Post if given the chance."
Both Spayd and Narisetti said the sharp decline in newspaper revenue and staffing -- The Post completed a third round of voluntary retirements late last year -- is changing the tradition-bound mind-set. "The industry is in such trouble that there is a willpower to try a lot of things that maybe five years ago we wouldn't have considered trying," Narisetti said.