Ed Kelley says it’s a brand-new day at the Washington Times, and he intends to help “reinvigorate” a newspaper that has been slowly mending after a period of uncertainty and infighting by its founding family.
Kelley, 58, was named editor of the paper Friday, filling a position that has been vacant since the departure of former editor Sam Dealey in November.
The hiring of Kelley, a veteran editor at the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City, may signal a return to stability for the five-day-a-week Times, which survived a fractious, near-death period last year.
The newspaper was repurchased by a group led by its founder and Unification Church patriarch, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, in the fall from a faction headed by Moon’s eldest son, Preston. Moon had handed control of the paper to Preston Moon four years earlier, but his tenure was dominated by a dispute over its direction and finances with three of his siblings. At the height of the family quarrel, Preston Moon threatened to shut the publication down, Times sources said.
Moon and the paper’s old guard reasserted control, preserving one of the most visible parts of his legacy and sprawling business empire.
Kelley will take over a newspaper badly in need of a pick-me-up. Over a four-year period, the Times’ circulation has plunged by about half, from 100,257 in 2007 to around 50,000. (The Washington Post had daily circulation of 550,821 and 852,861 on Sunday as of March 31.)
During this slide, the Times killed its sports and metro sections, but it has revived them.
“Obviously, this is a paper that has had some ups and downs, and that’s characterizing it lightly,” Kelley said in an interview Friday. “All news organizations, including my own and [The Post], have had our ups and downs. Unfortunately, none of us who work for daily news organizations are strangers to this kind of thing.”
Kelley said the Times is intent on expanding its newsroom, with journalists now numbering around 100, as part of an effort to boost both its print and digital operations. He said he would like to extend the paper’s brand on radio, TV and online.
“What got me excited about the job was the opportunity to take the Times beyond D.C. to a national audience,” he said.
Kelley will hold sway over both the news and opinion pages at the paper, much as he does at the Oklahoman and as his predecessors at the Times did. Although some newspapers, including The Post, place their news and editorial pages under separate control to avoid coloring their coverage, Kelley said he would maintain “a bright line” between the Times’ historically conservative editorial page and its news columns.
“The conservative imprint on the editorial and opinion pages won’t change,” he said, “and we’ll pursue the kinds of hard news that we hope will keep The Post on its toes.”
He declined to describe his politics but said that he’s “comfortable” with the Oklahoman’s and the Times’ editorial approach of “limited government, personal responsibility, strong national defense and free trade.”
Kelley has spent his entire career at the Oklahoman, beginning as a summer intern in 1974 and starting full time after graduating from the University of Oklahoma the following year. He spent four years in Washington as a reporter and bureau chief, and returned to Oklahoma City in 1990 to become managing editor, the paper’s top newsroom job. He was 36 at the time — and the first person to edit the paper who was not a member of the family that owns it.
In 1996, Kelley was named editor of the year by the National Press Foundation for the Oklahoman’s coverage of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building the year before.
An additional lure to Washington for Kelley: He and his wife, Carole, have two adult sons who live in the area. A third child, a daughter, lives in Oklahoma.