Bradlee and Downie presided over a Post that, for the most part, was quite profitable. Brauchli is not so fortunate: he wasn’t hired to expand the Post, but to shrink it. He knows the odds he is up against: “I’m taking a lot of arrows in the back now, and it’s okay,” he told longtime Post political editor Maralee Schwartz in March 2009. “In a year this is going to be a better place.” His mandate is to remake one of our legendary newspapers for a radically different era. And he must do that under the shadow of two great editors and with far fewer resources than they had. He must commandeer a smaller, faster vessel while forestalling a mutiny among the crew. That crew is not on the verge of insurrection, but neither is it enamored of its skipper.
On a sweltering Friday in early June, I sat down for two hours of conversation with Brauchli in his spacious office at the Post, which overlooks a sleek and newly rebuilt newsroom. On the day I visited, the newsroom was as hushed as an insurance office, and I was struck by how young the staff was; I saw few people who looked older than fifty. (Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti won’t say how many employees have taken buyouts in recent years. But in his new book Morning Miracle, a shaggy obituary for the old Post, Dave Kindred writes that nearly four hundred newsroom staff members have exited.) Brauchli is tall and lanky, with a receding hairline and a tight smile. He wore an ordinary blue suit and a cranberry-colored tie. I thought of Philip Marlowe’s description of his friend Bernie Ohls in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep: “He looked like anybody you would pass on the street.”
Brauchli did not allow me to examine the postcards and personal items pinned above his desk. He also discouraged me from looking at the books on his shelf, although I did see a copy of T. S. Eliot’s Selected Poems, which someone recently sent to him. He had scribbled some notes on a legal pad, and he began to explain to me why the Post is “in a good position to succeed.” He listed the reasons: a highly affluent, internationally-minded readership; high market penetration for the print edition; a large digital audience. He added: “The Post has a very smart and defensible strategy—both journalistically and economically—which is one that Katharine has really honed in the last year: to be the indispensable guide to Washington, really to be for and about Washington.”
But getting Brauchli to provide direct answers to my questions was a bit like pulling water from a dry well. When he did offer detailed responses, it was, by and large, in the style of a cagey public relations officer. How much money has he been forced to cut from the news budget? (“I don’t think we would want to discuss specifics on how much money we’ve cut from the news budget or the size of the news budget.”) Instead of abandoning New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, why didn’t the Post allow the bureau chiefs to work at home? (“Our feeling was that we can cover the news that matters most to our readers by sending reporters out from Washington, as we have always done for much of our national coverage, without needing people based in those cities.”) How does the newsroom culture of The Washington Post differ from the newsroom culture of The Wall Street Journal? (“Newsrooms have a lot of common DNA,” he said, before launching into a windy disquisition on how the two newspapers have very different readerships, which wasn’t my question.)
Brauchli was somewhat more relaxed and animated in the second hour of our chat, when we discussed his family background, his early years in journalism, his Nieman fellowship at Harvard, and his arrival at Dow Jones. Previously I had asked him for the dozen articles, written from abroad, of which he remains most proud. As we stood up, he gave me a stack of fifty-three articles.
Two weeks later, after I had written to Brauchli to inquire about scheduling additional time to talk about various matters—his clips, his rise at the Journal, his path to the managing editor job, and the trauma of the Murdoch takeover—he called to say that he did not wish to speak about his twenty-three years at Dow Jones. “It’s an era that has been amply described,” he said. He repeated what he’d said, this time with more emphasis, as if addressing a child: “It’s an era that has been amply described.”