Marcus the unlucky

Good fortune followed by bad, and again

Scott Sherman, in “A Rocket’s Trajectory,” his fine profile of Marcus Brauchli in the September/October 2010 issue of CJR, noted that the man is ambitious but unlucky. Good luck is followed by misfortune, which is followed by good luck, and then again, bad.

He started in the basement of Dow Jones, and, twenty-three years later, clawed his way to the managing editor’s job at The Wall Street Journal, only to then find himself face to face with Rupert Murdoch.

He lasted eight months under Murdoch, who pushed him out in April 2008. Brauchli rebounded with impressive speed: three months later he was named executive editor of the Post—a job that, for forty years, had been held by only two men: Ben Bradlee and Leonard Downie Jr.

But of course, it was not your grandfather’s Washington Post anymore. As Sherman put it in that 2010 piece:

It’s a news organization that has lost a staggering amount of money in recent years; that has endured four waves of buyouts; that was unnerved by a scandal unleashed by its forty-four-year-old publisher, Katharine Weymouth; and that, like many journalism outfits, is enduring an existential crisis about its future.

Things didn’t get markedly better at the paper under Brauchli, as Jack Shafer points out in his Reuters column today:

It’s not his fault, of course, that the bottom was dropping out of the newspaper business just as he took over the Post. But right-sizing the Post to fit the new economic realities was part of the job description when Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth was shopping for an editor to replace Downie. It’s the Post‘s transition from fat to slim that will be Brauchli’s legacy, not the journalistic accomplishments during his watch that he briefly tallies in his statement to the Post staff.

As The New York Times noted in its report on Brauchli’s exit today, and on the arrival of the new editor, Marty Baron:

The company’s industrywide problems have been made worse by internal tension between Mr. Brauchli and Ms. Weymouth. At the announcement on Tuesday, Ms. Weymouth, the granddaughter of the Post’s publisher Katharine Graham, would not directly address a pointed question from the newsroom about why she made the change, according to someone at the meeting.

But in recent months, she had shared her frustrations with friends in Washington that Mr. Brauchli wasn’t willing to make more cuts in the newsroom….

Apparently, Brauchli, after years of cuts, was trying to hold the line. The Times reported that he received a “prolonged ovation” in the newsroom when he announced that he would leave the job. Baron, meanwhile, will have his hands full. We wish him good luck, followed by more good luck.

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing. Tags: ,