Before my June interview with Brauchli, I had breakfast with Walter Pincus, who, owing to knee trouble, hobbled into the restaurant with a cane. Pincus, seventy-seven, is a direct link to the Bradlee era, and a man acquainted with the Post’s dark corners. He admires Brauchli: “Marcus impressed Katharine as somebody who is more than a newsroom editor. And he is. He’s interested in the whole business.” Pincus is a strong proponent of a cutting-edge Web site for the Post, and he occasionally e-mails Raju Narisetti with suggestions about new digital products the Post should roll out. But he also cautions Post management not to neglect the print edition, which still provides most of the revenue for the Post.

One doesn’t envy the burden that rests on the shoulders of Weymouth and Brauchli. They have a newspaper that is rapidly losing circulation and a Web site whose profits cannot yet sustain a well-staffed newsroom. Brauchli is obviously energized by the challenges presented by the Web. When he talked to me about Washingtonpost.com, there was a sparkle in his eye. He seemed more detached and somber about the print edition.

Let Brauchli and Weymouth roll out a universe of interactive widgets, online chats, blogs, and news alerts, if that is what it will take for the institution to survive in the Wild West of cyberspace. Let’s hope that, along the way, they find a way to improve the overall readability of Washingtonpost.com, which is harder to navigate than other major newspaper Web sites. And let’s also hope they clarify the relationship between fact, opinion, and free speech for writers; the David Weigel affair, in which a Post reporter-blogger was forced out for his pointed comments on a list-serv, revealed that the Post has no coherent guidelines on that score.

Brauchli knows how to read a spreadsheet and how to serve the needs of some online readers. But the Post also needs a leader who is articulate, imaginative, and inspirational, and some of his troops are restless. A reporter with a sterling reputation wonders: “How much longer is Don going to stand for this? When will he say: ‘this is not working—we need a different person?’ ” For now, the Post’s talented staff must insist that Brauchli and Weymouth do not neglect the core journalistic mission of the Post, a mission that, in the Watergate era, inspired bumper stickers that declared: THANK GOD FOR THE WASHINGTON POST. Unless Brauchli and Weymouth want to be remembered as cost-cutters and bureaucrats, they had better find a way to recapture some of the flair and magic of the old Post as they build a new one.

 

Scott Sherman is a contributing writer at The Nation and a contributing editor at the Columbia Journalism Review.