Joe Pompeo: Inside the Search for the Next Editor of the Washington Post

From a Vanity Fair story by Joe Pompeo headlined “The Post is looking for a journalistic unicorn: Inside the confounding search for Marty Baron’s successor”:

It’s been nearly a month since Marty Baron’s exit from The Washington Post, which saw a return to its glory days under his eight-year editorship, and the search for a successor is heating up. A short list of candidates has begun to circulate. Insiders are gaming out who of those they think would be strong, who they think would be a mistake, who they think sounds the most plausible, and so on. But there’s one person who, barring some turn of events, is definitely not going to be the Post’s next executive editor, and that’s turning out to be the biggest head-scratcher of the succession process so far.

In late January, when Baron announced his plans to retire, Kevin Merida’s name immediately entered the bloodstream, with one source telling me he was “widely viewed as the external favorite.” Merida worked at the Post for 22 years until 2015, when he joined the Walt Disney Company, becoming a senior vice president at ESPN as well as editor in chief of The Undefeated. Alas, now that the search is in full swing, Merida is not in the mix….

Merida was encouraged to apply for the job, but he wasn’t exactly courted, at least not in the way one might have expected given all the boxes he appears to tick off: vast experience at the Post and support from former colleagues; stewardship of an innovative digital start-up inside a major media corporation; prominent journalist of color. The Los Angeles Times, which is a few months into its own hunt for an executive editor, has vigorously pursued Merida from the outset, and Disney has apparently made it clear that it doesn’t want to lose him to either newspaper….

Within the newsroom there’s a desire for more insight into publisher Fred Ryan’s thinking. On March 9, the union sent a letter to Ryan, signed by some 200 people, requesting an “interactive forum with newsroom staff so we can ask you questions and offer insight into the qualities we hope to see in our new executive editor.” The letter also stated that “there is still a lot of work to do in making our newsroom more equitable and diverse…Above all, we hope that you and Post owner Jeff Bezos will solicit and seriously consider opinions from employees throughout the company on the qualities and vision our next executive editor should bring to the job.”

Ryan has said he’s looking for someone who could steer the newsroom for at least a decade. (Merida is 64, which may or may not explain why the Post isn’t wooing him.) Beyond that, it’s more or less a black box. But even a black box is not impervious to gossip, and the rumor is that there are a half dozen or so candidates believed to be under serious consideration.

I can confirm the names of some of the people who have had at least preliminary conversations with management about the job, starting with two internal contenders: Cameron Barr, interim executive editor, and Steven Ginsberg, national editor. Marc Lacey and Rebecca Blumenstein of The New York Times have both been scouted…but it’s unclear if either will progress to the next stage. Two other names in circulation are Carolyn Ryan, another editor on the Times masthead, and Susan Goldberg, editor of National Geographic, the parent entity of which counts Fred Ryan as a board member. Someone with knowledge of the hiring discussions said, “The Post is looking for a journalistic unicorn—an editor of Marty Baron’s stature, but one who has a passport with many more stamps and who is much more in touch with the journalists of tomorrow.”

Word on the street is that Ryan will narrow it down to a small handful of candidates who will then ultimately meet with Bezos. Which brings us to a possible wild card that some insiders have likewise been gabbing about. As one of them put it, “Something we don’t know is whether Bezos has his own candidate.”

Joe Pompeo is Vanity Fair’s senior media correspondent.

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