One of the funny observations about life inside the imperial jewels of American journalism is just how much their cultures resemble official Washington. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise, given that journalism, like government, is largely the province of people who went to elite schools, aren’t financially obsessed, and presumably spent their formative years toiling in model U.N. and student government.
In this paradigm, executive editors are often like presidents. They come into a job every eight years or so, and tend to reward their allies with plum assignments, like overseeing vaunted sections of the paper, or becoming the White House correspondent, and have the ability to banish nemeses to Siberian outposts, like the book review or automotive coverage. And, to extend the metaphor, the editorial page has always been its own form of the Supreme Court, a sinecure operating at its own pace, with a unique culture and tenure-style appointments, and manifesting its impact through occasionally culture-moving, and also occasionally self-important, pronouncements. The journalism trade has transformed mightily in the last decade, but editorial pages move at a slower pace, and are still treated as institutions.
Innovation at the perch, after all, has been tricky. Years ago, The New York Times appointed James Bennet, the renowned editor of The Atlantic and former Timesman, to shake things up. And while Bennet oversaw extraordinary work and helped turn the unit into a meaningful subscription-driver, his tenure will be remembered for a Sarah Palin lawsuit and a misguided Tom Cotton editorial that essentially united the Times in forcing A.G. Sulzberger to reluctantly defenestrate him.