Advice for Marcus Brauchli
Of the unsolicited variety as he ascends to the executive editorship of the Washington Post.
Am I the first to note the semantic symmetry between a memo Marcus Brauchli wrote to his staff upon his departure from the top editing job at the Wall Street Journal and something Leonard Downie Jr. said to the assembled newsroom as he exited from the equivalent position at the Washington Post?
"[N]ow that the ownership transition has taken place, I have come to believe the new owners should have a managing editor of their choosing," Brauchli wrote in an April staff memo, acknowledging that he wasn't going to fight the eviction engineered by new owner Rupert Murdoch.
"A new younger publisher needs a new younger editor," Downie reportedly said to his staff in late June, as the freshly ensconced Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth eased him from his slot.
The moral of the story? As much as journalists like to pretend that editors shape newspapers, the real power has always belonged to publishers. Executive editors come and go at the New York Times, but the Sulzbergers stay. Nobody but a trivia hound remembers the names of all the editors who served under Otis Chandler at the Los Angeles Times. And Col. Robert McCormick the Chicago Tribune publisher had greater impact on journalism than Col. Robert McCormick the Tribune editor.
So, Mr. Brauchli, as you ready yourself for your Sept. 8 investiture as the new executive editor of the Post, my first parcel of unsolicited advice is less for you than it is for your staff: They should remember that while they'll be taking their orders from the editor, they really work for the publisher. The first key to a successful newspaper is for the editor and publisher to work as if they are equals, even though they aren't. Former Post publisher Donald Graham and Downie did such a fine job of acting that over time they started to look alike. (You'd have a hard time separating the two in a police lineup.) Downie and Graham's predecessors, Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham, loved to make believe that he was the boss, but they fooled no one.
You, of course, are the last person who needs a lesson in who is in charge ever since the genocidal tyrant Murdoch humiliated you during your run as Journal managing editor.
Second bit of unsolicited advice: You arrive at the Post with only one blemish to your journalistic reputation, about which Post media reporter Howard Kurtz asked you for a piece he posted this afternoon.
In order to complete the purchase of Dow Jones & Co., Murdoch agreed to install a five-person board to guarantee the Journal's editorial integrity. The board was supposed to firewall you from Murdochian interference. But as your former Journal colleague Dean Starkman wrote in a piece titled "Brauchli's Baggage" recently, for the firewall to work it basically had to be activated by you. Yet instead of complaining to the board about the usurpation of your powers, you took Murdoch's hush money and left. How much money? David Carr of the New York Timeswrites "$3 million to $5 million."
Your sputtering explanation to Kurtz about why you didn't force the issue with Murdoch isn't going to put it to rest. You told Kurtz:
"What was important … was the Journal, not me—that the editorial integrity be preserved, not that my job be preserved. ... Fighting for my job would have been mostly selfish and undermined the fight to maintain quality journalism."