After he was forced out as managing editor, Brauchli worked for three months as a consultant to News Corp. He says: “I was helping to think through how they might do business media in Asia.” Notes Keith Richburg: “I remember Marcus saying during that period: ‘the great thing about working for Murdoch is you walk into these places in India and China and people see you in a way they don’t want to see you when you are going out as a correspondent.’ ” Concludes Richburg: “If the Post job hadn’t come along, he’d probably be some top assistant to Murdoch on Asia.” Brauchli’s old friend Stuart Karle urged him to embrace the private sector: “I told Marcus he should go work for Goldman Sachs in China. He’d make himself a pile of money. The guy knows everyone in China. He loves journalism enough to stay in it.”
The Washington, D.C., area, Don Graham told me with satisfaction in 2002, is “a hell of an area to publish a newspaper in.” (See “Stability: Don Graham’s Washington Post,” CJR, September/October 2002). But the good times didn’t last: the Post Company’s annual report for 2007 highlighted a significant drop in classified advertising, and noted: “the newspaper business is slipping.” The newspaper division posted an operating loss of $193 million in 2008, and $164 million in 2009. Daily circulation of the print edition is now about 556,000, down from 830,000 in 1994. Today, the Post employs fifteen full-time foreign correspondents, down from twenty-four in 2001. These days, Graham lives with the words of his grandfather, Eugene Meyer, which are inscribed in the lobby of the Post: “In the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for the public good.”
The Post’s financial distress cast a shadow over the race to succeed executive editor Leonard Downie, who was installed by Don Graham in 1991. When Katharine Weymouth became publisher of the Post in 2008, she decreed that Downie’s time was up. Today, many people at the Post contend that Downie “bungled the succession”—as if Downie was not an employee of a public company, but an African dictator who could name his successor. Walter Pincus, a longtime Post reporter and a consultant to The Washington Post Company, speaks for a number of his colleagues when he says: “Downie had made sure there was no successor, because he didn’t want to leave.”
The leading internal candidate for the executive editor’s job was managing editor Philip Bennett, who embodied many of the paper’s best values and who maintained an ambitious conception of journalism’s possibilities. Bennett’s detractors faulted him for lackluster communication skills, and accused him of playing favorites in the newsroom. Pincus says: “I think Katharine felt she gave Phil a chance, but he was not a leader.” Several Post veterans told me that Bennett would have pushed back aggressively against some of Weymouth’s edicts. In the end, Weymouth chose a man with no institutional history at the paper, and with no work experience in Washington.
In a recent interview, Weymouth explained why she chose Brauchli: “He had all the qualities I was looking for. He has serious journalistic chops. He was already at a great newspaper. He was running an integrated (print and online) newsroom. He has a great news sense as well as a business sense. He has a good dose of charisma as well.”
Brauchli was hired in July 2008. The previous month, Weymouth had given an interview to Advertising Age, in which she affirmed that she needed a cost-cutter: “To the extent that we need to effect change either in our structure or our head count, I think you need people who can do that effectively, without overly demoralizing the staff or hurting the product that we put out in print or online.” In December 2008, Weymouth sent a memo to the staff that outlined a “principal pillar” of the Post’s strategy in a time of “scarce resources”: “Being about Washington, for Washingtonians, and those affected by it.” Post staffers are still debating Weymouth’s memo, and some are confused by what “being about Washington” actually means. “Why on earth is the Washington Post covering everything from a Beltway perspective?” asks one experienced Post reporter. Others assert that the Post was always for and about Washington, and that Weymouth’s credo is simply a rhetorical device to justify a smaller cost structure. Says Weymouth: “We had to have a strategy. We had to have a sense of what makes us unique, and without that I don’t think you have anything.”