Leonard Downie: The Man In The Bradlee Chair  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   September 1991

Leonard Downie: The Man In The Bradlee Chair   

By Cheryl Reid
Cheryl Reid a reporter for the Daily World in Aberdeen, Washington.     


As in any healthy dynasty, the question of succession was not who, but when. The answer arrived in June when Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee announced his retirement. On September 1 the crown prince, Leonard Downie Jr. , takes on the title and the legacy that Bradlee built, and Robert G. Kaiser , former deputy managing editor at the Post, becomes M.E.

Downie's future as heir-apparent was secured seven years ago when he was named managing editor at the Post. But, Downie says, "I've been at Ben's side for so long, I don't have that sense of ascendancy."

Since becoming M.E., Downie's responsibilities at the paper have steadily increased and he says the official transition won't be abrupt. "We're not talking about some different kind of regime here."

Many of the changes Downie plans were already in the works before Bradlee stepped down, including expanded local coverage and shifts in the traditional national beats. The new assignments, which include a family beat and a lobbies beat, are "less bureaucratic, more about people's lives," he says. The emphasis will be on "how things really work in Washington."

The new focus will be evident in the Post's coverage of the next election cycle, Downie says. There will be more coverage of the issues, voter concerns and activities and "less on the inner workings of the campaigns."

The biggest change will come in the Post's newsroom, which Bradlee's charismatic personality has dominated for the past 26 years. Downie describes himself as "less distant, less mysterious" than his famous predecessor. "I'm a more everyday kind of figure."

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