City Desk

WaPo Re-Org: Holy Shit!

Marcus Brauchli has been executive editor of the Washington Post for nearly eight months. A lot of that time he's spent burrowing into coverage of the global economic meltdown, having meetings with key individuals, and banging away at his BlackBerry. Changes, as is customary at the Post, have come slowly and cautiously, such as the decision to curb duplication in obituary writing on the Metro and Style pages.

This morning, however, Brauchli dumped the Mr. Incremental persona in favor of Change Agent, handing down an enormous, nearly 1,700-word memo blowing up the newsroom. No more Balkanized Washington Post, with nine million fiefdoms, all with their own top bosses who tussle and muscle each other over every little thing.

In the new Post world, there'll be three top editors: Kevin Merida, in charge of national stuff; Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the current sports editor who'll take over local coverage; and Sandy Sugawara, the current business editor who's going to be in charge of a "universal" news desk that'll funnel all kinds of content into print, the Web, and so on.

The rest of the changes kinda flow from that new structure, with massive personnel upheaval, and desks and titles moving around the place like gchats. But one newsroom change towers above all the others for Posties as well as readers.

The memo announces that Assistant Managing Editor for Metro Robert McCartney will leave his current perch to take a job as a Metro columnist. He's run excellent Metro coverage since mid-2005, when he was chosen to succeed Jo-Ann Armao. His people love him, he's had good relations with the Web folks, and he did fabulous things for the long-suffering feature hole in Metro's front page.

So the move to providing content is nothing short of a shocker. In mid-December, McCartney sent out a notice announcing that his desk would be hiring a new columnist. The memo called the move "exciting news," doubtless a reference to the extraordinary act of hiring in these tough media times. Here's what the job announcement said, in part: "We want a columnist who becomes a must-read feature in the paper and on the Web. We want a columnist who can offer a compelling and provocative read twice a week, who is an exceptional reporter, voiced writer and deep thinker. We want a columnist who has a lot to say and really looks forward to saying it."

Who knows—perhaps the boss fashioned a job description so delicious that he just had to have it himself. The Dick Cheney of the Washington Post? Or is McCartney's position separate from the one that the paper declared open in December?

Either way, management seems happy with the move, if the re-org memo is to be believed:

Bob McCartney, who has served the paper so well as AME/Metro for the last four years, will become a Metropolitan columnist, one of our leading voices in the community where Bob grew up and has lived and run coverage for so long. His distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, managing editor of the International Herald Tribune and the first AME of the continuous news desk, and as a business editor and a reporter gives him the kind of depth and wisdom that will infuse his writing with authority and insight.

Unsaid is how long it's been since McCartney scored regular bylines—that would be about 18 years, judging from a quick Nexis search. Correction 4/17: This part is wrong: McCartney picked up regular bylines in 2003, as a correspondent from Paris. I apologize for the mistake. So McCartney can management employees, but can he manage sources again? I'd say yes—he'll get the magic back.

The bigger consideration—and it's a huge one—relates to the lineup of Metro columnists. Here they are: McCartney, Marc Fisher, John Kelly, and Courtland Milloy. The relevant percentages: 75 percent white, 100 percent male.

Now, there is no way this can stand at the Washington Post. Just no way. Not at a paper that over the years has taken great pains to ensure diversity within its reportorial corps. The boys club on the Metro page this morning emerged as one of the top items of gossip in the Post newsroom.

Answers on Metro columnist diversity, though, are tough to come by right now. Sources at the Post appear to be digesting the news and not picking up the phone.

One editor in a position to know, however, says there's "more to come on columnists." The editor did say that McCartney is not moving into the columnist slot announced in December.

This afternoon, there's a "town hall" meeting on the changes at the Post. Turn off that BlackBerry, Brauchli!

Memo after jump.

To the staff:

Today, we are beginning a reorganization to create new reporting groups, streamline editing desks and anticipate the impending integration of our print and digital news operations.

The changes reinforce our longstanding belief in great reporting and writing as the vital center of The Post’s journalism. We want to empower journalists and encourage them to work across departments and platforms. In addition, we want to simplify the handling of words, pages, images and new media, building on the prescient move to “two-touch” editing under Len and Phil. Decisions about space and play must happen faster, both in print and online, and in a way that pulls together our now-separate newsrooms. A single editor ultimately ought to be able to oversee all versions of a story, whether it appears in print, online or on a BlackBerry or iPhone. Space in the newspaper and editing firepower in general should be allocated based on a day’s news priorities, not a predetermined formula.

These changes will alter the way we do things, but t hey will not affect the commitment to journalistic depth, authority and excellence that has defined The Post. Just the reverse: We think these steps will help us to adapt more easily to the economic and technological challenges that face us, while preserving the best of our traditions and values.

Key Personnel Changes:

In keeping with our strategic focus on serving readers in and interested in Washington, we will put most news reporters under two senior editors, a National Editor and a Local Editor. Much first-line editing, copyediting and production will occur on a new Universal News Desk under another senior
editor. Together with the executive editor, the managing editors and the deputy managing editor, these people will form the core leadership of the newsroom.
- Kevin Merida, now Assistant Managing Editor for National News, will become National Editor.
- Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, now Assistant Managing Editor for Sports and Weekend Editor, will become Local Editor.
- Sandy Sugawara, now Assistant Managing Editor for Business, will become Editor of the Universal Desk.

These changes, which become effective May 1, will set in motion other personnel moves.
- Scott Vance, now Assistant Managing Editor for News online, will become News Editor when our print and online desks merge, working closely with the National and Local editors to drive coverage across platforms.
- Bill Hamilton remains Enterprise Editor, working for Liz and helping to guide many major projects into the paper and online.
- Bob McCartney, now Assistant Managing Editor for Metro News, will become a columnist on metropolitan affairs.
- Matt Vita, now Emilio’s deputy, will become Sports Editor.
- Greg Schneider, now Sandy’s deputy, will assume responsibility for Business.

Coverage Groups:

Local, National and Business reporters and editors who “commission” or drive coverage will be organized into coverage groups. Decisions about what we cover and who should handle what story will be made by the leaders of these reporting groups. Each reporting group will be responsible for a
specific area of coverage and be led by an editor and probably at least one deputy, who may also write.

To give you an idea how this will work, we recently posted a job running Science, Health and Environmental coverage. That editor will have primary responsibility for coverage of those areas, across the paper and the website, and will oversee the reporters on those subjects. Most stories
from these coverage groups will be edited on the universal desk throughout the day. The groups will manage blogs and may edit major projects internally. Other groups will be created around subjects such as National Security, Local Business and Development, Social Issues, and so on. We will
announce their formation in coming weeks and post available openings for editors and deputies.

All the news reporting groups will work for Kevin or Emilio. Kevin has run National since January, but already has displayed great talent as a story conceptualizer and the special effectiveness of someone who is both a leader and a role model for many of his reporters. Together with his deputy, Marilyn Thompson, Kevin has been building a highly capable team whose coverage goes beyond the routine and brings real insight.

Emilio, a native of the Washington area, has run sports brilliantly in his second stint here at The Post. His focus on breaking news and exclusives, on strong narratives and the superb work of our columnists and photographers, has made our Sports section the best. He’s also pioneered
print-online integration for The Post this year, bringing together our sports journalists in what has been a very useful and successful experiment. We will place great emphasis on developing strong local journalism, especially online.

Emilio’s exceptionally talented and versatile deputy, Matt Vita, will succeed him as Sports Editor. A former national-security editor and Congressional reporter for The Post and a former foreign correspondent for Cox Newspapers, Matt shares much credit for the Sports department’s recent
successes.

Bob McCartney, who has served the paper so well as AME/Metro for the last four years, will become a Metropolitan columnist, one of our leading voices in the community where Bob grew up and has lived and run coverage for so long. His distinguished career as a foreign correspondent, managing editor of the International Herald Tribune and the first AME of the continuous news desk, and as a business editor and a reporter gives him the kind of depth and wisdom that will infuse his writing with authority and insight.

Universal News Desk:

The Universal Desk will ultimately combine what is now spread across departments and two separate newsrooms, bringing together many people now in the ranks of assigning editors, copy editors and the news desk, as well as many producers at the website. It will handle editing tasks large and small, and make decisions about space allocation and story play, deciding what appears where on the paper’s news pages and online. Most stories will be edited on the universal desk, rather than in reporting groups. Stories edited during the day for use online will form the basis for their print
versions, and vice versa.

We still have a lot of planning and consultation to do before the desk will be up and running. We invite your input and ideas, and expect to be discussing with many people both downtown and in Arlington what the right organization is.

Anyone who has watched Sandy’s incredibly agile oversight of the business and financial staff, especially the way she and Greg led The Post’s super coverage of the economic and financial crisis, will understand immediately why she is the right person to take on the immense task of creating a new, high-octane news engine.

Greg, a smart, seasoned editor with experience on National as well as Business, will take over the business staff from Sandy and become The Post’s main national economics and business editor. Greg has more than learned this field promotion after the often-heroic hours and exacting editing he put into the business staff’s outstanding coverage of the financial and economic crisis. Like Kevin, Emilio and Sandy, Greg will work with us in mapping out the detailed newsroom structure.

The bridge between the coverage groups and the Universal Desk will be Scott, when he becomes News Editor. Among his many roles will be setting intraday deadlines, guiding our homepage and ensuring that The Post is competitive on all platforms, on all stories that matter to our readers. A
veteran of National and the printside before he took on a key news job at washingtonpost.com, Scott has worked with just about everyone here, and to great effect.

Another central figure in the universal desk will be Ju-Don Roberts, Managing Editor of washingtonpost.com, who has steered our digital edition’s continued success and whose print and online experience are vital to re-imagining our editing operations. She’s been a top-class leader and
will remain point person for The Post’s digital edition, working with Raju on innovations and development of the best possible website for our readers.

Future Changes:

While we have outlined major changes here, there are many gaps still in our plan. As you will see, there are unanswered questions about some departments, including Style and the presentation, visuals, interactivity and web tools/innovations groups. Working with the new leadership team, we
will come back to you with more specifics in coming weeks. We plan to move as quickly as possible to announce further details of the structure of the reporting and editing groups. Some new roles will emerge from this process, and we expect to post those jobs as well.

We are, as you know, embarked on a number of big projects. Most notably, we plan to bring in a new content management system—production software, in plain English—and are rethinking aspects of our newspaper’s design. We expect that system will take a year to go live, but our reorganization
anticipates the changes in workflow that will result from a single editing and production system. Design changes in turn will reflect what the new technology and newsroom organization will enable.

We also are on track with plans to meld our print and digital newsrooms over the summer and into the fall. Shirley Carswell, Claudia Townsend, Peter Perl and a small army of others are leading various efforts, and we undoubtedly will have more to say about these plans in coming weeks.

We believe the changes we are undertaking will enhance our competitiveness by focusing our journalistic energy on coverage of core areas and by simplifying editing processes. As we integrate editing and production, print and digital, we will be able to deliver smarter, faster news online, while preserving the writing, depth and range of coverage that define The Post.

Finally, for anyone who gets this far, we have one final tidbit: We’ll hold a town hall meeting at 2 p.m. today in the auditorium to take questions and discuss these plans or any other issues.

Marcus Liz
Raju

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
  • TomHandy

    Is there something wrong with me that I don't seem to get all that excited about all these WaPo reorg stories? Not sure why the City Paper seems so obsessed with everything the Post does.

  • Junior3

    No mention of the foreign news staff?

  • Adams Morgan

    Not only are all the Metro columnists going to be male, but there is only one female higher up. Of course the publisher is a woman, but still...it's interesting that they've only got one female senior editor (although I forget who is running Style these days).

  • Bobby McObvious

    Adams Morgan, unmentioned in this article is Managing Editor Liz Spayd, who will be overseeing the National and Local desks and the universal copy editing desk. Also, the position carved out for Ju-Don Roberts is not an insignificant one. Three still isn't a lot, but there is quite a bit left to be announced and a number of good candidates for high management positions.

  • Men’s Club

    Do any WOMEN work at the Post?

  • Pingback: DMV: A Must-Watch Clinton Portis Video | Mr. Irrelevant

  • edward

    Erik, you are usually a very skeptical observer. So how come you don't draw the bottom line from the WaPo memo, which is going to be a massive layoff of middle-management at the Post? When they are finished streamlining, there will be a hell of a lot of highly-paid editors standing on the outside with nothing to do. I see this as nothing but a revenue-enhancing move, and as that, nothing positive at all.

  • anotherreader

    Women at the top at the Post: Liz Spayd, managing editor for news; Sandy Sugawara, AME business, soon head of universal desk; Ju-Don Roberts, leader of the digital side; Shirley Carswell, AME planning and administration; and bunch of women at the next level down.

  • seriously

    Oh, please, its a surprise that they favor white males there? How many African-Americans or women are in positions of power at the WSJ? Marcus wasn't exactly known for promoting women there. There's only one woman on the masthead now (alix freedman) and she's in a fuzzy ethics editor role. There's a reason Jill Abramson et al had to leave the paper to move up the ladder.

  • Pingback: Brauchli Displaced! - City Desk - Washington City Paper

  • http://friendfeed.com/derrinanderson Aletha Brumbelow

    Great stuff here :)

...