The Washington Post today confirmed what for weeks had been
rumored: That Boston Globe editor
Marty Baron would exit Morrissey Boulevard to take charge of the Washington
Post - a regional newspaper with a
national footprint which, for a variety of reasons, has lost much of its
The timing of the move is tinged with a touch of Hollywood. Washington operates on a
two-year cycle, just as Congress does. But the quadrennial warp and weft of the
presidential election is the rhythm that matters most. The appointment of a
forceful talent like Baron at this particular moment reassures the imperial
egos of the scribbling class that the stars are still in the heavens.
Barack, meet Marty.
Outgoing Post Editor Marcus
Brauchli, the former Wall Street Journal
capo who was buttoned when Rupert Murdoch bought the Journal in 2007, never successfully made the transition from the
highly specialized - and quirky - culture of the financial paper to the more
general-interest and politics-centric Post.
Rounds of newsroom buy-outs and forced retirements triggered by
the declining financial performance of the Post
made what would have been a difficult job almost thankless for Brauchli. (And so
much for the idea of those damned "salons," in which the Post planned to sell
access to its editors and writers. It never came to pass -to the relief of many.)
But in Baron, Washington
Post publisher Katharine Bouchage Weymouth tapped a talent
who thrives on adversity.
Baron is an unusual breed of cat.
According people who have seen Baron in action,
he's capable of internalizing the ever-shrinking financial resources available to
running a newsroom without losing his soul - or turning into a front-office
Not many would describe Baron as conventionally
inspirational. But in his own flinty, somewhat chilly way, Baron has coaxed a
new standard of excellence from the staffs he lead at the Los Angeles Times business section, Miami Herald, and the Globe.
A giant corporate newspaper machine such as
Gannett may have successfully mastered the business of stamping out editors
like widgets. But in what's left of the quality trade, editors - like
garden-grown tomatoes - don't often travel well.
Brauchli is just a case in point.
For whatever reasons, Baron has mastered the
highly valued corporate skill of parachuting into a new situation and assuming
command without compromising his own mojo.
Baron's own internal performance meter was
calibrated during his stint at the New
York Times from 1991 to 1997.
A friend of mine at the Times who recalls Baron's tenure said, "I enjoyed watching him
develop. Marty went from being a glorified copy editor on steroids, to a fairly
accomplished power player, managing to get both [Joseph] Lelyveld and Howell
[Raines] to consider him something of a golden boy. And as people know, there
was little love lost between Howell and Lelyveld. On an existential level, I
wonder if Marty gives a shit. He's like a character out of Camus. Loves the
sun. I think work is merely a metaphor for life in Baron's view of things."
Despite the incessant hand wringing in the profession
about whether the Times lives up to
its self-imposed code - or whether that code even makes sense today - when all
the whining is over, the Times still
represents the gold standard of American journalism.
Baron has replaced his marrow with this ethos. It
filters, in the immortal words of General Jack D. Ripper, Baron's "pure bodily
Baron's DNA contains a strong dose of the
Just as other editors across the nation had to do,
Baron presided over slashing the Globe's
arts and entertainment coverage. In the process, however, Baron focused on
writers who became Pulitzer Prize winners for criticism (Sebastian Smee for
art, Wesley Morris for film, and Mark Feeney for visual culture) as well as
another guy who, in addition to contributing his regular ration of inches, also
writes books (Ty Burr).
Of the six Pulitzers the Globe would win while working under Baron's banner, the most
interesting was the prize Gareth Cook (formerly an editor at the Phoenix) won for his explanatory writing
about stem cell research, which made the arcane understandable.
Paradoxical though it may be, a sure measure of
Baron's success at the Globe can be
measured by protégées of his that moved on to the Times mothership: Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Savage and Michael
Paulson, metropolitan editor Carolyn Ryan, and reporter Binyamin Appelbaum - to
If, in 50 years' time, newspaper history has more
than an academic interest, Baron will be ranked on a par with Tom Winship. Winship,
a swamp Yankee (not a Brahmin), who married well (a Cabot), and whose dad just
happened to be Globe editor,
accomplished the seemingly impossible task of propelling Boston's comfortable snooze of a daily into
the national limelight once he took over the shop.
At a glance, Baron might appear to be the
anti-Winship. Or in the lingo of Jerry Seinfeld, Bizzaro Winship.
No squire-like suspenders or backslapping for
But what they shared in common was simple; a love
Winship had his war, Vietnam;
Baron his, Iraq and Afghanistan.
When Anthony Shadid, who would ultimately die in
the employ of the Times in the early
days of the Syrian uprising, was wounded while working for the Globe in the Middle East, Baron jumped
on the first plane to Israel
to be by Shadid's side.
Baron walked into the Globe six weeks before 9/11. In the years that followed Baron and
the Globe suffered tremendous trials,
budget and salary cuts, the rumors - first - that the Times would sell it, then the threat to close it.
It in no way diminishes the scope or the quality
of Baron's achievement to say that he kept the bean counters quiet.
More importantly, he kept the newsroom marching.
There was no compromise on investigative work by
the Spotlight Team, as the investigation into to sleazy patronage of the
probation department, or the probe of judges who brush off drunk driving
The death of Senator Ted Kennedy yielded sterling
coverage - truly (and a cliché says it accurately) a first draft of history.
And also a book, Ted Kennedy: Scenes from
an Epic Life.
So who takes over for Baron? And how many people
will he eventually take with him to the Post?
The second is impossible to answer.
As for his successor, the newsroom is betting on
one of three candidates, with the handicapping in this order: Peter Canellos,
editorial page editor and former Washington
bureau chief (smart, innovative, but a bit distant); Brian McGrory, metro
columnist and former metro editor (hard driving, but volatile); Caleb Solomon
(shrewd page-one tactician, but too much in Baron's shadow).
As a lifetime Globe
reader, I'd be interested in how any one of these three might play out. But New York is playing for
My hunch is that some fifty-something Times veteran who is out of the running
to be the next editor of the Gray Lady, but still has that unusual portfolio of
talents needed to be the maestro of the daily miracle that is a newspaper gets
Before Baron was named Globe editor in 2001, there were three strong candidates in the
organization: managing editor Gregg Moore, a shrewd, genial, and ruthless
newsroom operator; special projects honcho Ben Bradlee, the epitome of journalistic
shoe-leather and hustle; and David Shribman, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington
York brass, however, had its own agenda, and his name
was Marty Baron. I wouldn't be surprised if history replayed itself.