Katharine Zaleski Says Goodbye to the “Washington Post”

The executive director of digital news calls it a “wonderful place to have a long career.”

By: Harry Jaffe

It would be easy to read Katharine Zaleski’s departure from the Washington Post as another sign that talent is leaving a publication rooted in print that’s headed for the dust pile. But that would be too facile.

“The Post is a wonderful place to have a long career,” Zaleski told The Washingtonian the afternoon news broke that she’s moving to Planet Daily Networks, a digital startup. “I’m a person who likes to build teams. I have an insatiable hunger to do that.”

Plus she’s a New Yorker returning home. Plus her husband, Rufus Lusk, is setting up a business in Manhattan.

Zaleski, 31, came to the Post two and a half years ago from the Huffington Post, where she had been one of the first editors, aggregating news and linking around. Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli hired her to be head of WaPo’s digital news products.

“I built a few teams to do search, social media, engagement,” says Zaleski. “It gave me a lot of career satisfaction.”

Brauchli was effusive in his goodbye memo, a form he has honed with plenty of practice. Raju Narisetti, whom he hired to manage the Post’s digital newsroom, recently escaped to the Wall Street Journal. “Since last year,” Brauchli wrote then, “engagement—measured by time on site—has nearly tripled. Page views and unique visitors also have soared. We outpace key competitors in the amount of traffic we get from search.”

Does Zaleski believe the Post can prosper in the digital age?

“It has one of the better digital road maps,” she says. “It’s on track now, investing in mobile, investing in social media. It takes a long time in rebuilding.”

With Planet Daily Networks, Zaleski will be starting fresh. The plan is to build a 24-hour video channel for the web. One of the draws for Zaleski is that Ken Lerer, cofounder of Huffington Post, is one of the principals of the new venture.

Before landing at Huffington Post, Zaleski graduated from Dartmouth and worked for CNN. On her first day at Huffington Post, she ran into Lerer in the building where her parents lived in the Upper West Side. “Work with me seven days a week,” she recalls him saying, “and I will teach you everything I know.”

She did, he did, and she says “I think I can learn more from him.”