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Washington Post's Executive Editor Announces Retirement

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A giant of American journalism has announced that he is retiring. Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron says he is stepping down after more than eight years leading the newspaper. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to talk about his career.

Hey, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. So you have called Marty Baron the best newspaper editor of the past 20 years. What did you mean by that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look. Baron's 66 years old. He's had a tremendous career. He's not the life of every party like one of his predecessors, Ben Bradlee, right? But he exudes a quiet and intense integrity and charisma of his own. I want to play a clip for our listeners. This is from him talking in 2014 to our former friend and colleague - our former colleague and current friend David Greene back on Morning Edition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARTY BARON: News organizations need to remain ambitious. They knew to do the hardest stories and the most important stories and that they need to invest the resources in order to deliver those stories successfully and that if it requires confronting powerful institutions, that we're willing to do that, that we're willing to take risks in service of the public interest.

FOLKENFLIK: And look. Marty Baron sure did that, whether it was revealing incredible secrets of National Security Agency surveillance under President Obama, going after the Saudis with tough coverage after its agents killed one of the Post's commentators, or famously, not going to war but going to work, in his words, when it came to trying to hold President Trump, his administration accountable and transparent, really doing one form of impressive investigative journalism after another.

CHANG: Well, give us a sense of, like, what was The Washington Post like before Baron got there?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, when it came to the Post, it was in rough shape. It had been a storied paper, really exceeding eminence in, call it, the '70s and '80s coming into the '90s. The Graham family had controlled it, although publicly traded for decades. And it had to be bailed out by Jeff Bezos. It wasn't clear, you know, was this truly a national newspaper or was it really a - based financially as a metro paper that happened to be in the nation's federal city? Jeff Bezos bought it for what was for him pocket change. I think it was something like $250 million. And it took a bit to find its footing. But with new money and with a new insight into how things work digitally and online, not an area of strength for Marty Baron, the paper found its footing. It has gone since from a staff of 580 to now more than a thousand, the largest news staff in its existence. And that's really built on the backbone of the reporting of the staff and a lot of the leadership that Marty Baron showed.

CHANG: Well, we should mention that as storied as Marty Barron's tenure has been at the Post, it wasn't without controversies. I mean, he definitely had his critics, right?

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I think there's a few areas one could easily point to as emblematic. Look. He had - eight years, you're going to have controversies. I think one of his areas of some weakness was social media. A lot of younger reporters at the newspaper felt they should be able to express their perspective - not partisan views but insights and thoughts in ways that made him uncomfortable. Similarly, you saw BLM bubble up inside The Washington Post newsroom, questions of representation for people of color, people who had been kept to the side. That felt - was felt in a lot of newsrooms but very acutely at the Post as well.

CHANG: OK, so those were his years at the Post. But, you know, Marty Baron has had a long career. Remember; he was depicted in the movie "Spotlight." What was he known for before he got to the Post?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, look. We heard his quote earlier. He talked about not only - about being ambitious. I think he - not only ambitious, but Marty Baron was fearless. His time at The Boston Globe portrayed in that movie - it was really him taking on the Boston Catholic Church over the issue of child abuse, an investigation built on his insight on the first day of the job. That rectitude, that toughness, going after something so powerful for Boston was something he held on to as a quality throughout his career.

CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik.

Thanks, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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