Howard Kurtz to Daily Beast, leaves Washington Post (Interview)

How could this have happened?

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(Photo: Associated Press)

Long story short

The unthinkable: Howard Kurtz leaving his post.

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Howard Kurtz, the longtime media reporter for the Washington Post, is leaving his post for a job as Washington bureau chief for the Daily Beast. The Beast, at least, is quite happy about this development:

From a Beast release: "Tina Brown, editor in chief of The Daily Beast, said, 'I have great respect for Howard as a journalist and newsbreaker, but I admire him most of all for his understanding of media and politics as the story of our era. He is that rare reporter with a metabolism that outpaces the frenetic subjects he covers. I am excited that he will be a driving force in The Daily Beast’s coverage of this upcoming midterm election and for many election cycles to come.'"

This particular driving force drove a roomful of gasps at the Post. Big swaths of the newsroom had no idea that a departure this momentous was in the works. The guy who worked quietly and tirelessly all week and then blabbed as a CNN host on the weekends was considered a lifer. A reporter at the Post says, "It took us by surprise. Howie is one of the steadiest guys you'll ever meet. He's a working machine. He always has his head down doing his thing."

For his part, Kurtz has a lot to say on the topic of his departure. First the boilerplate stuff: "It's a tremendously exciting opportunity to join what's essentially a two-year-old startup and to help build a Washington presence and that that turned out to be an opportunity I couldn't resist."

Well, did you get a raise, Mr. Kurtz? "The decision was not made on a financial basis." According to the media-beat vet, the appeal of the jump was to be able to shape the Beast site, in a way that he could never hope to at the Washington Post. "It's a smaller battleship than the Washington Post," he says.

"I am trying to be an online entrepreneur and that can be difficult in a big company that has an established way of doing things," he says. Oooh, is that a dig on his soon-to-be-former workplace? Perhaps just a bit. "I think the Post has a really good web site, but if you want to get out there and invent something new, maybe it is better to try to do that at a young place that's still growing." 

Referring to yourself as an "online entrepreneur" requires a measure of chutzpah. But there's some third-party support for the boast. Jim Brady, former executive editor of washingtonpost.com (and now general manager of TBD.com), says of Kurtz: "In the Post newsroom, he was one of the guys most open to new things. He was an early explorer of podcasting and he did the Media Notes" feature. "There was no way of getting the word out that he wasn't willing to experiment with," says Brady.

A curious fact: Before the much-discussed renovation of the Post's newsroom, Kurtz did his work on the fifth floor, alongside colleagues on the national staff. During the renovations, he moved to the fourth floor, in the midst of the Style section, where his work often appears. Once the dust was cleared out, Kurtz never moved back up. He warns against reading too much into his staying down on floor four — where he says he ended up with more space — but a colleague claims that Kurtz was a bit disenchanted with the feel of the Post's new work environment. 

Questioned on that point, Kurtz responds: "All of us have tried to get used to the new newsroom and for whatever reason it hasn't been as warm an environment as the old newsroom," he says, noting that the warmth assessment is not a comment on "the editorial operation," but rather on the "layout and sociability of the place."

Some housekeeping notes.

• Kurtz will continue as host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and may continue mentioning CNN in his writings on Washington.

• Kurtz isn't bolting the Post because he feels straitjacketed by the norms and rules of a daily newspaper. He says the tone of his reporting and writing will be pretty much the same as what he's done over the years.

• Kurtz isn't saying whether the Post fought to keep him on board. Just refuses to say a word about that. "I'm not going to get into that." When pressed further and asked directly whether there was a counteroffer, Kurtz again scooted: "I gotta go return some other calls."

• Kurtz on Sept. 19 had Daily Beast boss Tina Brown on "Reliable Sources" for a nice prolonged chat. What's up with that? Should Kurtz have issued a disclosure? Were they in the midst of job negotiations? No, says the reporter/TV host: "Not a word had been discussed at that point. The conversation started the following week in New York. I wouldn't have done the interview if there was even a whiff of a job discussion at the time."

Here is the official sendoff e-mail from Post management:

It's with great sadness that we announce Howie Kurtz is leaving The 
Washington Post to head the Washington bureau of The Daily Beast. 
Throughout his 29 years at The Post, Howie has taught us all how the medium
is the message, marshalling fresh evidence not just daily but hourly about
the powerhouses, personalities and opinion-shapers of the media world.
Applying intelligence, creativity and an endless well of sources, Howie
single-handedly has defined this huge sector, whether he was communicating
in newsprint, in books, online or on television. His Media Notes franchise
has become the indispensable authority on the players and companies in the
center, by definition, of the national debate.

"Coverage" does not quite capture what he has delivered for the Washington
Post and its readers. Like the best reporters ever to have owned a beat,
Howie has treated the subject matter expansively. He covered not just
journalists but the folks in the political sphere who try to steer the
conversation--White House press secretaries, campaign strategists, gossip
bloggers, late-night talk-show hosts. All the while, he has become known as
a straight-shooter by every anchor and editor and reporter who has been on
the other end of his inquiries. He bravely covered the very organization he
has called home and won the respect and independence that can only come
with consistently solid and fair reporting. His energy is beyond
exemplary--it's superhuman.

With Howie's departure we will begin searching for his replacement ,
looking for someone who can be a commanding authority on the media. We're
seeking alively, nuanced writer with drive and enthusiasm, and the
ability to keep ahead of the changing media world and its impact on
politics.

Ned Martel    Marcus Brauchli    Liz Spayd

 

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