The Washington Post tonight named former Wall Street Journal editor Marcus Brauchli its new executive editor, replacing Leonard Downie Jr. after 17 years. The transition comes thanks to a new publisher, Katherine Weymouth, who wants to put her own stamp on the paper. With Brauchli, it will be hard to avoid doing just that. While the Post has remade itself over the past decade as a local paper with a focus on national politics, Brauchli is basically a foreign news reporter who, prior to a replacing Paul Steiger atop the Journal masthead, edited global and national news. Then again, we hear Brauchli is prepared to sacrifice much of what he has accumulated at the Journal to take the Post gig - and not just the wealth of his experience.
Buzz among Journal-ites is that Brauchli is giving up his estimated $3 million to $5 million Journal severance to take the Post job, since News Corp. inserted a non-compete clause into the deal when Brauchli exited the Journal after briefly serving under Murdoch confidante - and eventual Brauchli replacement - Robert Thomson. UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Portfolio's sources have stated that Brauchli has been assured his non-compete doesn't apply to the WaPo job. It's entirely possible our source, who heard second-hand, is wrong on this score.
There would be an element of self-cleansing in Brauchli returning News Corp.'s money. When he exited the Journal, there was scattered grumbling that the once-loved editor had abdicated too readily to Rupert Murdoch and his henchmen, perhaps motivated by his eventual payout. One former Journal staffer complained to us at the time:
He was supposed to be the bulwark, preserving original Wall Street Journal journalistic standards against the expected onslaught by News Corp. But what did he do? Certainly not what John Carrol and Dean Baquet did at the LA Times. They defiantly resisted efforts to weaken the newspaper, stood up for standards, spoke out publicly and ultimately made principled resignations. Marcus, by contrast, rather than making a peep of public protest, readily agreed to being bought off for a large sum and also signed a non-disparagement agreement. So much for principled stands.
For Weymouth, Brachli's hiring marks a chance to reverse some of the work of her uncle, Donald Graham, still chief executive of the Post Co. It was Graham who refocused the Post locally, even as the Times stepped up its national ambitions. "He has backed the Post into an economic cul-de-sac," one industry observer whispers. "The papers that are going to fail first are the city ones."
Then again, Brauchli was also considered a Web-aware modernizer at the Journal, and his battlefield experience there trying to merge the disparate cultures of Dow Jones and News Corp. will come in handy as the Post tries to integrate its largely independent website with the print newsroom. It's possible Weymouth plans to maintain a local focus in print while drawing on Brauchli's Web savvy and general management experience to grow washingtonpost.com.