Last Spring, Jeff Bezos opened the doors of his imperial Kalorama mansion to host the final round of interviews to determine the next executive editor of The Washington Post. The paper, which Bezos had acquired in 2013, was then at an inflection point. Marty Baron, the fearless and famously irascible old-school editor, whose profile had been magnified by Liev Schreiber’s portrayal of his younger self in Spotlight, had revived the Post’s reputation for great journalism to heights unseen in a generation. He’d also steered the institution through some of the most tumultuous years in its history: Trump, the Khashoggi murder, Covid-19. Now, Baron was retiring with no obvious successor or heir apparent, inside or outside the building.
Meanwhile, like many newsrooms, the Post was also dealing with a particularly novel digital age phenomenon—the trend of increasingly fractious, and sometimes influential, reporters airing their grievances on social media, which could occasionally complexify the overlap between the Post’s institutional brand and their own personal reputations and voice. It was a trend that visibly troubled Baron, as well as Fred Ryan, the organization’s publisher and C.E.O. The new executive editor would have to face the dual challenges of keeping the paper competitive with the Times and CNN while also managing the frustrations of its most outspoken staff, many of whom had loyal and ardent individual followings, particularly on Twitter.