The Washington Post, facing steep financial challenges and striving to find profitability as readers abandon print newspapers for digital formats, changed its newsroom leadership Tuesday.
The Post announced that Marcus Brauchli, its executive editor for the past four years, will be stepping aside but remaining with the company. Martin Baron, 58, editor of The Boston Globe, will replace Brauchli, effective 2 January.
“We are thrilled to have Marty Baron lead The Washington Post’s newsroom,” said Katharine Weymouth, publisher of The Post. “He has a demonstrated record of producing the highest quality journalism, which matches the legacy and expectations of The Post.”
Brauchli joined the paper in 2008, leaving The Wall Street Journal several months after it was taken over by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Under Brauchli’s stewardship, The Post won four Pulitzer Prizes.
Brauchli will stay on as a vice-president of The Washington Post Co., working closely with Donald E. Graham, the chairman and chief executive. He will evaluate new media opportunities, The Post’s statement said.
The change in leadership comes at a time when The Post, like many newspapers, has been struggling on many fronts. As Post readers have shifted their reading from print to online, the company has suffered from declining advertising revenue and steady circulation drops in recent years.
Revenue at its newspaper-publishing division dropped by 4%, to $137.3 million, in the third quarter, largely because of a decline in advertising. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Post’s circulation from Monday through Friday declined to 507,615 in March, compared with 698,116 in 2007. The company has already started laying off staff members in departments, including advertising and the technology team to stem, losses.
The paper also faces fresh competition from online news outlets like Politico, whose founders include former Washington Post reporters. The Post Co.’s news division also can no longer depend on Kaplan, its college and test preparation business, to help offset its losses.
But the company’s larger, industrywide problems have been made worse by internal tension between Brauchli and Weymouth, the granddaughter of Katharine Graham, the longtime publisher. Brauchli was quickly criticized by members of the newsroom, who described him as more distant than his predecessors, like Leonard Downie and Benjamin Bradlee.
The relationship between Weymouth and Brauchli chilled as she pushed him to make newsroom cuts he was uncomfortable with, according to people in the newsroom familiar with the discussions.
Weymouth told journalists at public events this past summer that she wanted to remove Brauchli, people familiar with those discussions said. But Graham, her uncle and the company’s chairman, stepped in and advised her to try to work things out, these people said. Graham in an interview last month praised Brauchli.
Discussions between Weymouth and Brauchli broke down again in recent weeks when Brauchli brought to her a newsroom budget that incorporated the cuts she asked for; despite that, she rejected it, according to a person in the newsroom familiar with the discussions.
Weymouth was complimentary towards Brauchli in Tuesday’s announcement. She credited him for developing the paper’s Web operations and said he now will be involved with finding “new media opportunities” for the company.
Brauchli credited his staff with taking on “the hardest targets in journalism” and for becoming “pioneers in blogs and social media”. Weymouth declined to answer questions from the staff at the meeting about why the change was made.
Graham said he looked forward to having Brauchli help him with the company’s digital developments. “It is raining start-ups and new-media projects and I’m in up to my neck, and Marcus and I are going to work on them together,” Graham said. He did not address the conflicts between his niece, the publisher, and Brauchli. “It is the publisher's job to select the editor,” Graham said, “and I think Marcus Brauchli has been an excellent editor of The Washington Post and I think Marty Baron will be, too.”
Baron has overseen The Globe since 2001 and during this tenure, the paper won six Pulitzer Prizes. Baron previously was executive editor of The Miami Herald and worked as a senior editor at The New York Times. Earlier in his career, he also worked for The Los Angeles Times.
Baron said in an interview that he looked forward to running a newspaper “that has had a defining and distinctive role in American journalism”. He said he was realistic about the challenges he would face in running a newspaper during tough financial times for the industry, and said it would be crucial to have a strong relationship with the newspaper’s publisher.
“There isn’t a news organization that isn’t facing significant financial pressures,” he said. “Every editor is having to make tough choices and I would expect to make tough choices. I’ve worked with many different publishers. I worked with three here at The Boston Globe. It’s an important relationship. It’s not always an easy relationship. At times, there can be moments of tension. But we certainly have to share our goals and be compatible and everyone needs to work at that.”
Christopher M. Mayer, the publisher of The Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co., was informed of the news, while he was in London celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary. He said he received the news “with mixed emotions”, describing Baron as “a staunch advocate of the kind of accountability journalism that digs deep and serves the public, and a fierce advocate of the First Amendment”. He cited Baron's leadership of the paper's investigation into the sex abuse scandal within the Catholic church.
©2012/The New York Times