If Brauchli’s financial resources were equal to Bradlee’s and Downie’s, his Post might well resemble theirs. But it was his misfortune to join the Post a week before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Says former Post foreign editor David Hoffman: “The recession blew a big hole in the newspaper’s revenues, which led to pressure to reduce fixed costs, especially personnel.” He faced other challenges as well. Notes Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times: “Moving into the top job as an outsider is a daunting challenge in any institution, especially one with a culture as intense and complicated and political as that of a big-city newsroom.”
Brauchli had a mandate to integrate the paper’s print and digital operations; the latter was located in Arlington, Virginia. The merger was long overdue. Managing editor Raju Narisetti, who joined the Post eighteen months ago after launching Mint, a first-rate business newspaper in India, explains: “We were five years too late in combining both news organizations. And that was a mistake.” He adds: “The Washington Post site was a phenomenal site ten years ago. I think we were somewhat complacent. It lost ground in terms of design, technology, innovation, ease of use.”
As part of the integration process, Narisetti is overseeing the installation of a new computer system that can seamlessly merge print and online content. Brauchli also created a universal news desk, the goal of which is to move content to multiple platforms as rapidly as possible. Indeed, modernizing the Post’s technical infrastructure has been a crucial aspect of Brauchli’s tenure (though Post staffers still complain about second-rate computer equipment). Brauchli takes credit for “integrating two newsrooms in a way that has both eliminated redundancy and improved our agility, ensuring that Washingtonpost.com and its digital cousins on mobile devices are as competitive as any news site out there on breaking news.”
I asked Narisetti to delineate the principal objective of the current regime. He says: “To take a print-centric newsroom of eight hundred people, give or take, and transform it into a smaller, but much more multimedia-centric, newsroom.” (“About six hundred” is how Brauchli describes the current size of the newsroom.) Narisetti believes that he and Brauchli have come close to accomplishing their mission. But a price has been paid: as part of the integration process, some of the most talented people associated with the Web site, starting with Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, moved on; Brady felt there was no place for him in Brauchli’s integrated newsroom. (Brady now works for the Allbritton-owned tbd.com, which competes against the Post on local news). Moreover, Brauchli had the newsroom redesigned, which resulted in months of hassles and headaches for Post staffers, who were forced to flee their normal workspaces. Newsroom morale plunged, though the mood is said to have improved since the construction ended.
It will take time for the dust to settle on the print-Web integration. “It still feels like two media organizations,” says Freddy Kunkle, a veteran reporter on the local staff. “It’s almost as if there is a blogging culture, an online culture, an online media organization that has been inserted into the host of the old print organization, and it’s kind of transferring its DNA, little by little, like a virus. A lot of folks who were on the print side are just not exactly sure where this is all going to go.” Kunkle adds: “Even among some of the younger writers, there is unease about the new standards, or lack thereof, for writing Web stories, and the superficiality of what passes for an updated blog post, and the quest for eyeballs.”
It’s Brauchli’s job to respond to that unease. But my reporting, which is based on more than fifty interviews with current and former Post employees, suggests that he has yet to articulate his vision clearly or win the full loyalty of his staff. Some sources used unflattering terms to describe him—“bureaucrat,” “cipher,” “organization man,” “undertaker”; some people find him aloof and secretive, though his allies say in his defense that his Swiss origins explain his contained personality. Before an audience he is said to be a tongue-tied disaster; he is apparently better in one-on-one meetings. Brauchli admits he has work to do: “I’m probably not in the newsroom as much as I should be,” he says. “My biggest weakness is that I don’t get to spend enough time with reporters.” Brauchli may have been a charismatic reporter, but he is not a charismatic editor. A distinguished reporter says: “He’s a failed communicator. He’s made very little effort to transmit his vision to the staff. He has no presence in the room in a larger sense. He doesn’t seem interested in news or the Washington area. Most people don’t understand why he’s here.”