Some longtime readers are worried. A year ago James Fallows returned to Washington after three years in China. The bundle on his doorstep left him dismayed: “I’ve thought of the Post as my hometown paper for years,” he wrote, “and feel as if I’ve come back to see a family member looking suddenly very ill.” “It’s not as good as it was,” says Charles Peters, the longtime editor of The Washington Monthly. “I attribute this to the loss of so many good reporters. There is much less original reporting than there was. There is less to read. It’s a faster read. You have to depend more on The New York Times than you did before.” Seymour Hersh says: “We all worry about the survival of the Post.”
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.”