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.”
How does the Post look two years after Brauchli’s arrival? First, it must be acknowledged that his task is enormous: to put out a first-rate product with fewer resources in a punishing recession and a time of rapid technological change. A comprehensive report card on Brauchli’s Post would require a separate article, but impressions can be formed. “The Post is still a good, serious, competitive newspaper,” says Bill Keller. In an e-mail to me on July 21, Brauchli outlined some of his achievements:
We’ve kept up a strong cadence of investigative work—into subjects like the misallocation of AIDS money in the District, the hazards of the helicopter medevac business, the Redskins’s ticket office; the lapses that led up to the Fort Hood shootings, and most recently the world we described in our Top Secret America series. We also have put in place terrific teams covering national security and politics, reporters who have pretty much defined the Afghanistan policy debate over the last year and brought our readers real understanding of the party schisms that are driving politics this year.