Washington Post editor to step aside
Leonard Downie Jr. will step down after 17 years as the top editor of The Washington Post, he told his newsroom staff on Monday, making way for a generational transition under a new publisher, Katharine Weymouth, at a time of financial and technological strain for newspapers.
A successor was not named, but Weymouth will appoint a new executive editor in a few weeks, according to Post officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. Downie, 66, will leave The Post newsroom on Sept. 8, after more than four decades, to become a vice president of the Washington Post Company.
"A new, young publisher needs a new, younger editor," Downie told a gathering of a few hundred people in The Post's main newsroom, flanked by many of his top lieutenants, by Weymouth, and by her uncle, Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of the company and a former Post publisher. Downie concluded by telling his assembled troops, "I love you all very much," and then telling them to get back to work.
A calm, unassuming leader in an often frenetic business known for outsize egos, Downie has led The Post's newsroom through an especially strong period, as the paper became one of the best and most important in the country and won a trove of awards, including 27 Pulitzer Prizes. This year, it won six Pulitzers for its work in 2007, the most it has ever captured in a single year.
Downie oversaw a period of expansion — especially in The Post's local and suburban news coverage — followed by one of contraction. In recent years, he has presided over cutbacks reducing the news staff by more than one-quarter, to about 700 people, including significant reductions in its overseas staff. Last month, more than 100 newsroom employees accepted a buyout offer, including some well-known reporters.
Like all major newspapers, The Post is struggling with declining circulation and ad revenue, even as it draws record numbers of readers online. The Post's weekday circulation, which was over 800,000 early in this decade, averaged 673,000 in the six months ended March 31, the seventh-highest in the country. It has more than nine million Internet readers each month, according to Nielsen online, behind The New York Times and USA Today. Like the rest of the industry, it has found it hard to turn its digital audience into significant revenue.
The Post is trying to meld print and Internet newsrooms that have been kept separate to a degree that is unusual in the industry, fostering a sometimes less-than-friendly rivalry. Post executives say merging them is among the highest priorities for Weymouth, 42, who became the publisher in February, and also became the first publisher to have control of the Web site.
Among the leading candidates for Downie's job, according to people who have been briefed on Weymouth's thinking, are Philip Bennett, the second-ranking editor; Marcus Brauchli, who was recently ousted as the top editor of The Wall Street Journal; Jonathan Landman, deputy managing editor of The New York Times, and Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek magazine, which is owned by the Post Company.
Downie's departure was widely expected, given his age and Weymouth's desire to put her own stamp on the paper, but it was still emotional.
"I'm going to miss this newsroom," he said in an interview. "But I know it's time for a generational change in the leadership of the newsroom, as there is in the publisher, to take this paper to the next place it needs to be, along with its Web site."
Downie said he was not pressured to retire. "Don and Katharine and I have been talking about what to do next since she became publisher, and we decided this was the right thing."
The Post's leadership has been extraordinarily stable. It has had just two executive editors over the last 43 years, Downie and Benjamin Bradlee. And for 75 years, the company has been led by three generations of a single family; Weymouth represents the fourth generation of the family to become publisher, and is expected one day to succeed Graham, who is 63, at the helm of the company.
Downie joined The Post in 1964 as an intern, and worked his way up through a variety of reporting an editing positions. Before becoming executive editor, he was the managing editor for seven years under Bradlee.
He has written four nonfiction books, and his first novel, "The Rules of the Game," is scheduled for publication in January.
I REMEMBER LEN.
HE CAME TO IHT BOARD MEETINGS.
HE NODDED HIS HEAD,
HE DIDN'T SAY MUCH.
AND THEN HE WENT OFF FOR DINNER WITH BEN
OR TO WATCH TENNIS.