Incoming Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron, formerly of the Boston Globe, intends to revive the flagging D.C. paper by focusing on hard-hitting restaurant exposes, or so Paul Starobin suggests, writing in the New Republic:
foreign coverage is very expensive and the Post has no particular comparative advantage in delivering foreign news over competitors like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The marginal editorial dollar is arguably better spent on, say, DNA testing of fish served by local restaurants to make sure diners are getting what they ordered—an investigative project undertaken in the Boston region by Baron’s Globe, to avid reader interest.
That’s much more interesting, I suppose, than a two-year investigation into the classified national-security state. Baron certainly knows how to think small: “At the budget-crunched Globe, he shuttered all foreign bureaus to devote greater focus and energy to the ‘central’ mission of covering Greater Boston.”
Now, the best piece I’ve read in the Washington Post over the past year was Cheryl Thompson’s report on how casually the D.C. police department will close a homicide case (“police closed at least 189 cases without an arrest — 15 percent of the 1,288 total closures”), and serious local reporting should be as important to the Washington Post as it is to the New York Times. But if Starobin gauges Baron’s intentions correctly, what he has in mind sounds more like the editorial plan of an alt-weekly or cultural monthly than a newspaper that was once a national institution: “Baron is certainly no rube. He upheld the Globe’s longstanding tradition of fanatical sports coverage while at the same time devoting more attention to the local arts and culture scene.”
Starobin does note that there’s a unique sort of “local” news to be covered on Capitol Hill, but is the Bostonian Baron — whose appointment as executive editor of the Post rankled longtime Washingtonians on the paper’s staff — the man to expose how D.C.’s principal industry really works? Then again, a paper that plays host to Marc Thiessen and Jennifer Rubin may not have much appetite for that sort of thing. Better to stick to the fish.