Is Frontline's Philip Bennett in the mix to be the next Globe editor?


Philip Bennett, the managing editor of FRONTLINE, the landmark, high quality PBS newsmagazine produced from WGBH's Allston headquarters, is said to be a "stealth candidate" for the job of replacing outgoing Boston Globe editor Martin Baron.

Bennett was hired to cover local news when he first came to the Globe and eventually became Foreign News Editor.

Bennett moved on to the Washington Post where he served as Managing Editor from 2005 to 2009. The Post garnered 10 Pulitzer Prizes during those years. Bennett served as number two to Leonard Downie, who had himself succeeded Ben Bradlee.

Bennett left the Post when the new publisher Katharine Weymouth decided to define herself by breaking with Post tradition and going outside of the assumed chain of internal succession to appoint an outsider, Marcus Brauchli, as the top news dog.

Brauchli, former headman at the Wall Street Journal, had just been squeezed out of management by the Journal's new owner, NewsCorp, controlled  by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Weymouth's brainstorm degenerated into a series of editorial and management migraines. Brauchli, who is supposed to stay at the Post advising on acquisitions, steps down the last day of 2012.

How serious a candidate is Bennett? In truth it is hard to say. A cone of silence envelops the search. Bennett has the chops, there is little doubt about that. The Globe he knew has changed. At the Post he played on a gritty fast track. At Frontline the fast track is paved, but the stakes are equally high.

Among the various subtexts I think I discern is this: who will have the final say in picking the next Globe editor? The New York editorial mandarins and their corporate overlords? Or current Globe publisher Chris Mayer?

Even my usually reliable Times sources say they don't have a clue. They wonder if the paper's new chief executive officer Mark Thompson, former BBC chief, will play a role along with publisher Arthur Sulzberger and vice chairman Michael Golden, Sulzberger's cousin.

Today is Baron's last day at Morrissey Boulevard. For the past 11 years, Baron led the news room during episodes of considerable turbulence: staff cuts, financial pressures, and a disquieting round of contract negotiations that resulted in significant employee givebacks.

Sometime dour, always hard charging, and often inspirational, during Baron's tenure the Globe pocketed four Pulitzer Prizes. More important, under Baron's strategic influence and tactical guidance the Globe shrewdly focused its resources. The result is that as big-city dailies and regional papers flirted with mediocrity - or worse - standards at the Globe remained high.

It's a given that Baron will be a tough act to follow. A new round of buyouts sees the exits of old hands, among them: Alex Beam (lifestyle columnist with a distinctive voice), Brian Mooney (a grizzled veteran out of central casting who has probably forgotten more about politics than many young staffers remember), and Dan Wasserman (an editorial cartoonist with a strong point of view whose already-skewered subjects remain skewered). And there are revived rumors that the Globe, owned by the New York Times, could be sold within 18 to 24 months.

If it is, how might that fact affect the choice of a new editor?

Without answering those questions, it seems reasonably clear, according to the accounts of various Globe brass, that Mayer favors an in-house solution.

But here's where it gets tricky. Would a former Globe editor, such as Bennett, qualify as in-house by dint of his previous service?

Or would in-house pertain only to the trio of current Globe editors now thought to be in contention for the job?

Two days ago, I took an informed but wild shot and suggested that Caleb Solomon, the managing editor and Baron's number two, would seem like the most logical choice. That guess was based on many conversations with people on the business and circulation side of the paper, as well as mid-level editors.

After I posted that online, I received substantial feed back from working reporters and lower-level editors who clearly favored former metro editor and current metro columnist Brian McGrory.

 If the next editor were chosen by news room vote, McGrory might emerge the winner. If more management and operational types from, the newsroom, and the sales side were voting, Solomon would be their man.

Editorial page editor Peter Canellos, by this populist but only metaphorical means of measurement, would be left to remain in charge of the editorial pages, a high-profile and desirable job that reports to the publisher, not the editor.

In addition to Bennett, the stealth candidate, and the openly-considered trio of Solomon, McGrory, and Canellos, the names of three other Globe veterans are frequently floated by the "great mentioner": Carolyn Ryan, the former Globe metro editor who is now the New York Times metropolitan editor; former Globe managing editor Gregory Moore, who edits the Denver Post; and former Globe Washington bureau chief David Shribman, who helms the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bennet, Moore, Shribman, and Ryan have pedigrees in addition to their respective talents. McGrory has fire in the belly. Solomon would have virtually no learning curve. Canellos enjoys a sense of just how the Globe sits in the larger political firmament. And then there may be candidates that busybodies like me just don't know about.

So even at this late date, surveying the field is an exercise in discerning guesswork, not unlike trying to divine the identity of a new pope.

Will an announcement be forthcoming circa 10 AM Monday in order to catch the maximum media bump? Stay tuned. 

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