Marty Baron and Fred Ryan, the duo who guided Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post through its heady and expansive Trump-tinged “Democracy Dies in Darkness” era of digital transformation, are generally considered the model executive editor and C.E.O. tandem. The two might look like an odd couple—Baron is a less Hollywoodesque simulacrum of Liev Schreiber’s brooding Spotlight portrayal while Ryan has the elan of a Heritage Foundation boulevardier—but their extraordinary collaboration helped the Post discard the deflated ambitions of the latter Graham years. During their time together, the Post revived its journalistic heritage as the House of Woodward, it became the subject of a Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep movie, and once again grew into a journalistic and financial competitor to its more urbane and august competitor, The Times.
In actuality, of course, Baron and Ryan more than disagreed from time to time, and they had plenty of audible disputes during their nearly seven-year run together. Before settling into what Baron describes in his forthcoming memoir as “a constructive, friendly, mutually supportive groove,” the two men “argued, incessantly and furiously” about “almost everything.” “Whenever Fred entered my office,” Baron writes, “my executive assistant, sitting just outside my door, knew she would soon hear me shouting.”
One of their final disputes came in Baron’s final years, when he realized that despite a pattern of record digital growth, fueled in no small part by liberal Trump agita, “the paper faced a seemingly insurmountable competitive gap” with The New York Times. In Collision of Power, which will publish next week, Baron writes with envy of the Times’ aggressive diversification into lifestyle offerings like Cooking and Games and Wirecutter that made the brand an indispensable part of readers’ lives beyond newsroom coverage, fueling the company’s growth to what is today nearly 10 million digital subscriptions. “The Post had not made big strategic bets,” Baron writes. “No active efforts were made to identify potential acquisitions… Importantly, unlike The Times, we had not insinuated ourselves into people’s daily, non-news routines.”