Washington Times editor John Solomon resigns

TENDERING HIS RESIGNATION: John Solomon's move follows the firings of top executives, including the publisher.
TENDERING HIS RESIGNATION: John Solomon's move follows the firings of top executives, including the publisher. (Gerald Martineau/the Washington Post)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

After days of uncertainty and mounting newsroom anxiety, the Washington Times confirmed Thursday that John Solomon has resigned as executive editor.

Solomon, who made a mission of boosting the newspaper's fairness while trying to expand its reach, concluded that he could no longer be effective after a shakeup that ousted the Times' publisher, say staffers who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters.

The paper's managing editors, Jeffrey Birnbaum and David Jones, addressed the newsroom after the one-sentence announcement, with Birnbaum saying the resignation was "disappointing" and a "loss" but that Solomon was just part of a strategic vision that had brought the news organization a great distance.

Birnbaum said during the meeting that there was no indication that Solomon was pushed out and noted that he had tendered his resignation last Friday. That was during the period when Thomas McDevitt, the publisher and president, and two other executives, including Chairman Dong Moon Joo, were fired.

Participants say Birnbaum told the staff that Solomon would want them to continue to put out a first-rate paper despite his departure. Birnbaum also dismissed as baseless speculative reports that the owners, who are affiliated with the Unification Church, are considering shuttering the print edition.

Some Times reporters resented the fact that Solomon has not shown up in the Northeast Washington building since the firings were made public Monday, at a time of widespread nervousness about the paper's future. One asked during the Thursday gathering who would replace Solomon, and Birnbaum said he did not know.

Solomon, who did not respond to a phone message and whose Times e-mail account has been terminated, is a longtime Associated Press writer who took over the Times newsroom early last year after a one-year reporting stint at The Washington Post. He had hired Birnbaum and reporter Matthew Mosk away from The Post, and pushed to bring balance to what his predecessors had openly called a conservative newspaper.

"If I made one fundamental change, it's to make sure opinion and commentary didn't bleed onto the news pages," Solomon said in an interview last year.

Solomon started a number of expensive initiatives -- from launching a talk-radio show to beefing up the paper's Web site to creating a companion site called TheConservatives.com -- and had hoped to begin distributing a national print edition by early next year. Some staffers wondered whether these initiatives were deepening the Times' financial plight and questioned reports of high salaries for some of the newcomers that far exceeded the typical wage in the non-union newsroom. Analysts estimate that the Times has lost close to $2 billion since its 1982 founding, and the industry downturn has undoubtedly increased the tide of red ink.

Jonathan Slevin, who was named acting president and publisher, said in a statement this week that an "assessment team" would develop "a market-based plan that supports the sustainability of The Washington Times." But others close to the situation have suggested that Unification Church politics and personalities were more responsible for the shake-up than financial concerns.

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