When leaving a high-profile job, it’s best to walk away at the top of your game, like Michael Jordan the first time. For Leonard Downie, the Washington Post’s executive editor, that high point came in March, when the Post won a record six Pulitzer Prizes.
He could have said: “It’s been a thrilling run leading a great newspaper for 17 years. I have decided to take on new challenges—like writing my second novel.”
Instead, Downie, 66, has remained mute as rumors of his departure go through the newsroom. Colleagues say he’s traveling more and engaged in running the paper less.
Katharine Weymouth, who took over as publisher of both the paper and the Web site in February, will choose Downie’s replacement. Sources say she’s on a “listening tour,” talking to journalists across the country. She will have to find someone who can run a shrinking daily newspaper, merge it with an expanding Internet operation, and get along well with the new publisher—her.
Here are people mentioned as potential successors:
• Jon Meacham: Newsweek managing editor, familiar face on political TV shows, coauthor of the On Faith religion blog on Washingtonpost.com.
• Phil Bennett: Post managing editor.
• Jim Brady: editor of Washingtonpost.com—would Weymouth merge the two under Brady?
• Steve Coll: former Post managing editor who left to write for the New Yorker.
• David Ignatius: former editor of Post Business and Outlook sections as well as the International Herald Tribune; now a Post columnist.
• Jake Weisberg: editor of Slate, an online magazine published by Washingtonpost.com.
• Dean Baquet: Washington bureau chief for the New York Times and former editor of the LA Times. “I have had no conversations,” Baquet says. “It would be a surprise to me.”