Media critic

Kristin Roberts, the Politico national editor whose resignation was announced last week, will be staying in the business. In a memo to staff today, McClatchy Vice President of News Tim Grieve announced that Roberts will join the organization as executive editor of McClatchy Washington. The role, noted Grieve in the memo, is a new one for the media outlet, one that seeks to exploit the collective power of McClatchy properties; the company puts out 29 daily and 18 community newspapers, including the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee, the Lexington Herald-Leader and the (Raleigh) News & Observer.

This is a reunion of sorts. Grieve formerly worked with Roberts when he served as editor in chief of National Journal. Then National Journal closed its weekly print edition, prompting an exodus in which Grieve went to McClatchy and Roberts bolted for Politico, where she piloted coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. She applied for a promotion to the editor position at Politico, which was being vacated by Susan Glasser. Carrie Budoff Brown was chosen for that spot over the summer, and Roberts finished out the balance of the 2016 campaign coverage before announcing her resignation.

Writes Grieve of Roberts’s impact: “At POLITICO, she drove their wall-to-wall campaign coverage, guiding the newsroom’s many teams to deeply reported, exclusive-yielding journalism. Her team recognized Donald Trump’s staying power early and then delivered pack-leading coverage of the Republican primary and the national political conventions. Their work reached readers online and through Kristin’s podcast, which saw listener numbers soar within weeks of launch and made its way onto multiple best-of lists in a crowded 2016 space.” (See full memo below.)

Aside from marking a welcome investment in McClatchy’s D.C. news game, the hire could signal further turbulence in the usage of the title “executive editor.” Dean Baquet is an executive editor, the No. 1 editorial official at the New York Times. Marty Baron is an executive editor, the No. 1 editorial official at The Washington Post.

Yet the media is a messy place that abhors common standards. So “executive editor” doesn’t mean “boss of all newsroom bosses” everywhere you go. At Politico, for instance, Paul Volpe — a top digital editor at the New York Times — was recently hired to assume the position of executive editor. He reports to Brown, the editor, which would make him, as executive editor, the No. 2 voice in the newsroom. Hold on, though: There’s also an editor in chief at Politico in the name of John Harris, who earlier this also had the title of publisher.* Throw him into the mix, and all of a sudden Volpe is an executive editor sitting at the No. 3 spot in the Politico hierarchy.

There, he is not alone. Josh Levin is executive editor at Slate.com, the No. 3 position. The Erik Wemple Blog interviewed Levin about this position back in 2014, when we first became interested in the sham of media titles. David Plotz, then the top editor at Slate “offered the the title ‘executive editor’ and that seemed like kind of a lofty title to me. And he said, ‘Just take the title,’ and I said ‘Okay,'” recalls Levin. “It’s clear looking across executive editors at other publications that it doesn’t mean any particular thing. I was happy to have the loftiness bestowed upon me without the responsibility of the executive editor of the New York Times.”

Also back in 2014, we interviewed Shani Hilton, then executive editor of BuzzFeed. The idea for the title came from No. 1 BuzzFeed newsroom authority, editor in chief Ben Smith. “He came up with it,” said Hilton at the time. “I said okay, it sounded good enough.” Hilton is now “head of news.”

BuzzFeed publicist Katie Rayford tells this blog, “We use the term executive editor to denote senior editors with wide newsroom responsibilities.”

So for the sake of much-needed clarity, Roberts will serve as the No. 1 editor in McClatchy’s D.C. bureau, overseeing a staff of about 30. Grieve’s full memo:

Years of Washington gridlock are about to give way to a period of fast-moving legislative action that could reshape virtually every aspect of American life. It’s a critical time for the country and for journalism, and we’re taking steps to prepare for it now.

Today we’re announcing a big one: We’ve just hired Kristin Roberts, currently the National Editor at POLITICO, to serve as the Executive Editor of McClatchy Washington.

This is a new role, and it comes with two primary responsibilities: to elevate our coverage of Washington and the elected officials our communities have sent here, and to harness the power of our 28 newsrooms to deliver groundbreaking political coverage that engages, represents and serves our readers all across America.

With top-flight journalists in a network of newsrooms including the Miami Herald, the Sacramento Bee, the Charlotte Observer, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the (Raleigh) News & Observer, McClatchy has the unique ability to see beyond the Acela Corridor and understand the rest of America. Kristin will work with our editors across the country to ensure that we do.

She’ll also work closely with Washington Bureau Chief Cheryl Carpenter, who has built on the bureau’s proud legacy over the last year by making our reporting ever more valuable to the markets we serve, by leading the way on the high-impact Panama Papers project, and by substantially growing the readership of the McClatchyDC site.

A graduate of The George Washington University, Georgetown University and the Columbia University School of Journalism, Kristin started her journalism career at Reuters, where she covered Wall Street and finance in New York, the U.S. South from a perch in Miami, and then the Pentagon during two wars. In 2011, she moved to National Journal. When I arrived there in 2013, I promoted her to Managing Editor, then watched in awe as she dramatically improved our journalism, pushing reporters to do their best work and winning their respect and loyalty in the process.

At POLITICO, she drove their wall-to-wall campaign coverage, guiding the newsroom’s many teams to deeply reported, exclusive-yielding journalism. Her team recognized Donald Trump’s staying power early and then delivered pack-leading coverage of the Republican primary and the national political conventions. Their work reached readers online and through Kristin’s podcast, which saw listener numbers soar within weeks of launch and made its way onto multiple best-of lists in a crowded 2016 space.

Announcing her departure, POLITICO cited Kristin’s role as a “teacher and mentor,” saying she “believes fiercely in the power of reporting and the responsibilities of journalists, and could be equally fierce in standing up for her team and for POLITICO.” Journalists who’ve worked with her echoed those thoughts on Twitter. One said he’ll “miss the roadmaps” Kristin gave him “every time I came to her lost in a piece and in need of direction.” Another said that Kristin “expects the best, but it’s why so many respect her.”

This is the Kristin I know, and I’m excited for you to get to know her, too.

Kristin will join us at the beginning of January. We have important work ahead of us, and we’re going to hit the ground running.

Please join me in welcoming Kristin to McClatchy.

*Correction: Original piece misstated the number of daily newspapers published by McClatchy. It also said that Politico’s Harris has the title of publisher, which he has relinquished.