How The Washington Post Could Trump The New York Times

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- At the Washington Post, the editors and reporters live to crush their counterparts at the New York Times.

Just as it is with such ancient rivalries as Harvard vs. Yale and the cobra vs. the mongoose, a victory is always savored, but seems somehow sweeter when it comes at the expense of an enemy.

The journalistic rivalry between the Post and the Times was covered in David Halberstam's book "The Powers That Be." In it, he discussed the Post's determination during the Watergate era, writing: "What was it [the Post's top editor Ben] Bradlee had said in the middle of the crisis, when Woodward and Bernstein had come up with a big one? 'Eat your heart out, Abe [Rosenthal],' talking to his real adversary, not the White House but the managing editor of the Times."

Right now, the Post can strengthen itself while weakening the Times by wooing Times Deputy Managing Editor Jonathan Landman to succeed Leonard Downie Jr. as the executive editor of the Post. .

The Post announced Monday that Downie, 66, would be stepping down, after weeks of furious media speculation about his plans. Media bloggers had been suggesting that the Post's publisher, Katharine Weymouth, might have been inclined to make a change.

Aside from Landman, other leading contenders include Post Managing Editor Phil Bennett and former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Marcus Brauchli. (The Journal, like MarketWatch, the publisher of this column, is a unit of News Corp. .)

Any of those well-regarded journalists would be a strong choice, and each has a unique appeal: Bennett offers continuity, Brauchli foreign-reporting seasoning and Landman online savvy.

The safe, practical move is for the Post to go with Bennett. He's the most well known in the newsroom. The Post runs the risk of looking like it doesn't quite trust its editors to do the job if it replaced Downie with a stranger.

Ideal choice

Landman intrigues me in this horse race.

While the Post would love to stick it to its foe, Landman would represent an ideal choice for the Post on merit alone. Politico reporter Michael Calderone noted that Landman met recently with Downie in Washington, citing an anonymous source. .

Earlier in the process, media reports had also mentioned other possible candidates under consideration, including Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham and Post Columnist and Associate Editor David Ignatius.

Landman's biggest strength is his solid understanding of the Web. He helps manage the Times' well-regarded digital effort, and such managerial experience in an online operation is arguably the No. 1 requirement for any leader of a media company today. Print advertising has been problematic for newspapers and magazines, and the Internet has become the fastest-growing part of most media establishments.

If Landman got the job, his ascent could pave the way to the top for Web editors. Most editors have worked their way up from traditional news-gathering departments of a newspaper or a magazine.

Other media operations might start looking first in their online departments when they're ready to promote someone to the lofty title of editor-in-chief or executive editor.

Landman has something else going for him: He stepped up at the Times during one of its most depressing eras. He was a voice of reason at the paper when its idealistic editors fell over themselves to help raise the profile of a reporter named Jayson Blair. Landman notified colleagues of his concerns about Blair.

But Blair ultimately played his benefactors for fools when it became known in 2003 that he had fabricated story after story at the Times. Ultimately, Blair left the paper, and the Times' two top editors were forced out in the ensuing scandal.

Rough patches

But even with his pedigree, Landman would probably encounter rough patches. He'd have to win over a newsroom of talented and tough-minde journalists, and many of them would naturally be suspicious of someone who came from the Times. Plenty of Post reporters and editors would prefer to see Downie's successor come from within their own ranks.

And if the next Post editor has to cut the staff, as is suspected, it would be an especially unpleasant task for a newcomer and could seriously damage morale right from the start.

Further, to some at the Post, Landman might have another big strike against him because he represents New York. In Washington journalism circles, New York is often an object of derision and viewed as a city filled with dilettantes.

If the Post hired Landman, though, he might be able to change that impression.

: What do you like or dislike about the Washington Post?

: It's always disappointing when your heroes let you down. What was Washington Post reporter David Broder thinking? At age 78, Broder, one of the most distinguished bylines in modern journalism, admitted to breaking the Post's rules about giving a speech to a special-interest group. "I am embarrassed by these mistakes and the embarrassment it has caused the paper," Broder tolds Post ombudsman Deborah Howell. .

to suggesting that there is no such thing as the so-called liberal media:

"Please consult the numerous, quality academic research studies on political bias in the media. These studies do such things as count agreed-upon key words or references in the media to widely-acknowledged conservative and liberal think-tanks. They reveal a consistent, 'left' leaning 'media' in every study."

-- David Stein

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By Jon Friedman
  • CBSNews

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