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Kurtz Gets Top Newsweek Slot in Washington

Can the former Post media reporter revitalize the flagging weekly’s Washington bureau?

Howard Kurtz will become chief of the reconfigured Newsweek/Daily Beast Washington bureau on January 1.

“It will be a big change for me,” Kurtz says.

Kurtz, who left the Washington Post last month after 29 years to join Daily Beast, will take over a storied bureau run by Ben Bradlee in the 1960s. He follows legendary bureau chiefs such as Mel Elfin and Evan Thomas. Jeff Bartholet has run the bureau the past few years; he will remain through January.

Kurtz will have to recreate a bureau that has lost its core and its mission. Since Newsweek started losing millions of dollars in 2008, the bureau’s once-robust cast of top journalists has been reduced by buyouts and defections. For example, political writer Howard Fineman went to the Huffington Post, investigative reporter Mike Isikoff left for NBC, and Mike Hirsh and others found homes at National Journal.

News that Kurtz will take over the bureau adds to the stack of changes that have transformed the weekly in the past nine months.

In May, the Washington Post Company announced it would sell Newsweek, a brand it had owned since 1961. In August it sold the magazine to industrialist Sidney Harman for $1 and assumption of its debt. Last month Harmon merged with the Daily Beast, a news-and-entertainment Web site, and named Tina Brown editor. Brown hired Kurtz away from the Post to become the Beast’s Washington Bureau Chief—and now Newsweek’s DC boss.

The fate of brand-name journalists still in the bureau, such as Robert Samuelson and Eleanor Clift, is uncertain. Until Kurtz’s arrival, Benjamin Sarlin handled much of the Beast’s coverage of the capitol as the site’s Washington correspondent.

Kurtz has an uphill climb, to say the least, if he wants to compete at all in the current Washington scene. He’ll have to match up against strong DC bureaus fielded by Huffington Post and AOL’s Politics Daily, the New York Times and his former employers at the Post, the TV networks and cable channels.

And then there’s Politico.

Kurtz is known for his prolific output in writing news, columns, blogs, and books. He also hosts CNN’s weekly Reliable Source program.

But can he manage?

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