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From AJR,   October/November 2008  issue

Tabloid Time   

Online Exclusive »  Former Houston Chronicle White House correspondent is excited about her new gig, covering the president for the Washington Examiner.


By Lindsay Kalter
Lindsay Kalter (lindsay.kalter@gmail.com) is an Ann Arbor-based writer.      

Former Houston Chronicle White House correspondent Julie Mason is taking the positive approach.

Laid off by the Houston Chronicle, the 42-year-old Mason quickly rebounded, landing at the upstart Washington Examiner in the same position. So she's fulfilling a long-held desire – to work for a tabloid.

"It's always just looked like a real gas," Mason says. "Now that regional papers are dying, it's just so grim. So relentlessly grim. It's hard to do good work under those circumstances, and it's had a real corrosive effect on journalism."

When the Chronicle failed to reach its goal of 90-plus voluntary buyouts last week, it eliminated Mason's position and that of Bennett Roth, the paper's national political correspondent; eight non-editorial staffers also lost their jobs. Mason worked as the newspaper's national political correspondent until taking over the White House beat in 2005. Both Mason and Roth were at the newspaper for 19 years.

Mason says the Chronicle has downsized its Washington bureau from 10 reporters to three since 2001. "The Chronicle decided to cut the Washington bureau and reallocate those resources in Houston," Mason says. Top Chronicle editors couldn't be reached for comment.

Despite the change of scene, Mason finds herself surrounded by familiar faces. The Examiner's executive editor, Stephen G. Smith, is the Chronicle's former Washington bureau chief, and Managing Editor Michael Hedges worked as the Chronicle's national security correspondent before joining the Examiner in 2007.

"I'm back with old friends. It's good," Mason says. "Change is not always a bad thing."

Smith says he is thrilled to have the "triple threat" on board, referring to her work as reporter, blogger and political analyst for MSNBC. He adds that when the position opened up in mid-August, Mason was the first potential replacement that came to mind, but he did not want to "poach" her from the Chronicle. Once he heard of the layoffs, he was "free to do so, and delighted to do so."

"Julie is wonderfully suited to a tabloid, because she's very quick and irreverent. She's got a great sense of humor, and the nose for the big 'holy cow' kind of story," Smith says. "Not a sensationalist, but someone who sees that story that readers get up on their hind legs over."

Smith says Mason is also a good colleague who works well in a group setting. He says the Examiner has a relatively young staff, and having her around will not only benefit her more experienced coworkers, but also those in the newsroom who are just learning about the field.

"She plays team ball," Smith says. "She'll be a great role model here."