If enterprising Washington Post reporters find themselves alone in the elevator with incoming executive editor Marty Baron, what should they expect?
Silence. Foot-tapping, perhaps. Maybe mention art. He collects it. He also bikes and hikes.
“No one would accuse Marty of being warm and fuzzy,” says Christine Chinlund, who worked closely with him during much of Baron’s 11½ years as editor of the Boston Globe. “He can be impatient.”
Once Baron hits the newsroom, he’ll likely be all business—a hard-nosed, hard-news editor who reads copy and drives his troops. Says Chinlund: “The respect he commands in the newsroom makes it all work.”
Baron, 58, will be the fourth Post editor in the Graham era: We had Ben, Len, Marcus, and now Marty. From many indications, Baron seems to be a combination of the first two. Like Ben Bradlee, he instills loyalty and devotion; like Leonard Downie, he immerses himself in the news, from concept to commas. Marcus Brauchli came from business and foreign news; Baron’s roots are in local business and national news.
Why take on the troubled news operation in the nation’s capital? “It’s the Washington Post,” Baron says. “It’s had a singular role in US journalism.”
That role has been much diminished in the past decade. Can Baron pull the Post newsroom from its ennui?
Chinlund, a veteran Globe reporter and editor, became ombudsman of the paper shortly after Baron arrived there in 2001. “Our relationship wasn’t always warm,” she says. “But I have a deep respect for his journalistic chops. He made the Globe vastly better. He has a sixth sense for news. He thinks big but sees every detail.”
Baron has spent most of his career in local news. A Tampa native, he started reporting for the Miami Herald. Before the Globe, he was editor of the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times, associate managing editor of the New York Times, and from 1999 to 2001 executive editor of the Miami Herald.
Baron has overseen Washington coverage in several posts but has never lived here. He was a newcomer to Boston, too. The day after he arrived, he worked with Globe lawyers to challenge a gag order on a civil lawsuit about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. A court unsealed the files. The ensuing series, edited by Baron, won the first of six Pulitzers under his watch.
Baron sees covering the community—“arts, public safety, and schools”—as his primary role in his new job. Politics and policy? “We have an obligation to cover that as well.”
At the Globe, Baron cut the staff by 40 percent, closing foreign and domestic bureaus. “We couldn’t sustain them,” he says. At the Post, he benefits from the dirty work done by his predecessor, Brauchli, who presided over several buyouts. Still, Baron was beloved in the newsroom.
“He was a cheerleader, and he was very effective,” says Globe environment writer Beth Daley, who’s also an officer in the Newspaper Guild. “He was unfailingly ethical, in journalism and management. He didn’t play favorites.”
Baron won’t divulge the details of his courtship with the Post, which began in the summer, or discussions he might have had with Post Company chairman Don Graham. He dealt with publisher Katharine Weymouth.
“It was Katharine’s decision,” Baron says. “I spent a lot of time talking to her.”
Weymouth is hoping the second editor she has chosen will do more than talk.
This article appears in the January 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.