“From the moment I arrived at The Post, I have sought to make an enduring contribution while giving back to a profession that has meant so much to me and that serves to safeguard democracy,” Baron, 66, wrote in a memo to The Post’s staff Tuesday morning announcing his retirement.
Baron, who was formerly the editor of the Boston Globe and the Miami Herald, joined The Post on Jan. 1, 2013, at a time when many newspapers, including The Post, were in financial decline. It was also just months before the paper embarked on one of its most consequential stories, centered on the leak of material describing the NSA’s extensive surveillance operations.
Later that same year, the Graham family, longtime owners of The Post, sold it to Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos — marking the beginning of the newspaper’s sustained revival under Baron’s leadership, both financially and in its journalistic ambitions.
Baron oversaw a dramatic expansion of the newsroom, which had undergone several buyouts before his arrival; its numbers grew from 580 journalists at his arrival to more than 1,000 this year. In a memo to the staff Tuesday, Publisher Fred Ryan said Baron had “inspired great reporting, managed an awesome digital transformation and grown the number of readers and subscribers to unprecedented levels.”
Within a couple of years, the understated editor became something of a journalism icon. The 2015 movie “Spotlight,” which won the Oscar for best picture, dramatized the Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s child sexual-abuse scandal, with Baron a key heroic figure portrayed by actor Liev Schreiber.
“His depiction has me as a stoic, humorless, somewhat dour character that many professional colleagues instantly recognize,” Baron later wrote, “and that my closest friends find not entirely familiar.”
And at the dawn of the Trump administration, it was Baron who clarified the mission of the mainstream press as it was blasted with political attacks of “fake news” from the right.
“We’re not at war with the administration,” Baron said, asserting his paper’s dedication to aggressive, fair and nonpartisan reporting. “We’re at work.”
In an interview, Baron said he decided to step down now after several years of intense work. “It’s an exhausting job,” he said. “With the Internet being so big a part of it, it’s 24-7-365. You’re pretty much on duty and on alert all the time. It means you never really get to disconnect.”
He has no immediate plans after he leaves The Post, he said: “I think I’m owed a breather.” The Post has not yet named Baron’s successor.
He credited Bezos with transforming The Post from a primarily regional publication to one that was national and international in scope and more focused on digital presentation, rather than print. “Had we stayed largely regional, we would be facing severe financial problems today, as most newspapers are,” Baron said. “He knew we could leverage The Post’s name and tradition of great journalism to national scale.”
Under Baron’s stewardship, Bezos introduced a new motto for the paper: “Democracy dies in darkness.”
“You leave behind a newsroom that is bigger and stronger and more thoughtful than ever,” Bezos wrote in an Instagram tribute to Baron. “You will be missed so much. Not just your intellect but also — and most hard to replace — your heart.”
New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, who worked with Baron when Baron was a Times editor, said Tuesday, “He made three newspapers [The Post, Globe and Miami Herald] better. He led The Post brilliantly. And he has been an important spokesman for the industry, a champion of investigative work and holding power to account.”
Baron’s retirement is part of a generational change at some of the nation’s largest news organizations. The Los Angeles Times’s top editor, Norman Pearlstine, recently announced his retirement, as has Stephen Adler, the editor of the Reuters news service. Baquet has been widely expected to retire from the New York Times soon.
Baron has worked in the upper echelons of newsrooms throughout his career. He spent his longest professional stretch, from 1979 to 1996, with the Los Angeles Times, rising to editor of its Orange County edition. After four years at the New York Times, he was named editor of the Herald in 2000 and led its coverage of Elián González’s return to Cuba and the disputed 2000 presidential election.
As the editor of the Globe, starting in 2001, Baron emphasized regional investigative reporting, culminating with the newspaper’s reporting on the Catholic Church’s coverup of allegations against abusive priests.
In 2012, Katharine Weymouth, then The Post’s publisher, hired Baron to succeed Marcus Brauchli as the newsroom’s leader. “I was looking for an editor with a proven track record, who could lead the newsroom as we became truly multiplatform and who would push us to do better work than ever,” Weymouth said Tuesday. “He has far exceeded my greatest expectations.”
Barton Gellman, a former national security reporter for The Post, recalled Tuesday how he met Baron for the first time in 2013 to discuss what Gellman would do with the voluminous trove of leaked material shared with him by whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.
“I remember thinking he might throw me out of his office when I laid out my outlandish conditions — a windowless room, a heavy safe, encrypted email and so on — for bringing the Snowden documents to The Post,” Gellman said. “He did not hesitate.”
At one “delicate moment,” Gellman said, Baron overruled a Post lawyer who had advised greater caution in the reporting.
“This was an uncommonly risky story,” he said. “Marty never put a foot wrong. Every choice he made came from a place of courage and common sense and journalistic integrity.”
In 2016, it was Baron who suggested the direction that Post staffer David Fahrenthold should take in covering then-candidate Trump as the two waited for an elevator at the office one night.
Fahrenthold had been reporting on Trump’s broken promises to contribute to veterans’ charities; Baron said he should go wider and look at all of Trump’s charitable claims over the years.
“The logic was that Trump had just tried to wiggle out of a charitable promise he’d made on national TV,” Fahrenthold later wrote. “What, Marty wondered, had he been doing before the campaign, when nobody was looking?”
The answer was a pattern of deceptive, even fraudulent activities, all of which led officials in New York to shut down Trump’s charitable foundation. Fahrenthold later broke the news that Trump had been recorded bragging about assaulting women during an appearance on the “Access Hollywood” TV show in 2005. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage in 2017.
In his note to the Post staff, Baron said he had told department heads two years ago that he was committed to staying as editor until after the 2020 election. He said he has worked in journalism “without stop” for nearly 45 years.
Baron wrote that his journalism experiences have “been deeply meaningful, enriched by colleagues who made me a better professional and a better person. At age 66, I feel ready to move on.”
He added, “Working at The Washington Post allows each of us to serve a purpose bigger than ourselves. Such is the honor of being a journalist, perhaps nowhere more so than in a newsroom like ours. I came here eight years ago with a reverence for The Post’s heritage of courage and independence and feeling an inviolable obligation to uphold its values. With all the energy I possess, I have tried to ensure that we remain faithful to all this institution has long stood for, with an emphasis on our duty to seek the truth and tell it.”
This story, originally published at 11:24 a.m., has been updated.