The Washington Times, Hunting For a Bionic Editor in Chief

Washington Post/November 1, 2007

The Washington Times is looking for a new executive editor, and the job description seems to call for someone with almost superhuman qualities.

The paper has hired a New York headhunting firm to search for a successor to Wesley Pruden, who has been editor in chief since 1992. The Times has made no secret of the fact that Pruden plans to step down in the coming months. One candidate is Managing Editor Fran Coombs, who has been interviewed for the job.

The "confidential position description," as crafted by the Howard-Sloan-Koller Group, calls for someone who can "articulate and execute . . . the mission of the paper and Web site . . . Support and contribute to the strategic vision of the company . . . Serve as 'master' of the tone and voice for the paper and Web site . . . Maintain an awareness of and respond to market trends/needs identified through market research. Use Web analytics to measure success of Web content and modify approach accordingly . . . Build and maintain a collaborative and productive relationship with the President/Publisher regarding vision, mission, goals and objectives, while fostering church/state separation."

Church/state separation -- which usually refers to a metaphorical wall between a newspaper's corporate side and its journalists -- may be more literal in this case than usual. The Times was founded, and is financially supported, by members of the Unification Church.

Pruden is out of town and could not be reached. Times spokesman Brian Bauman said the recruitment firm was hired because the paper has "a lot of positions to fill" but that he could not discuss details because "it's an internal matter."

It is not clear, even to insiders, who will make the final decision. Douglas Joo, a former Times publisher, was named chairman of the paper in February, and Thomas McDevitt, a former Times marketing director who also worked for the Points of Light Foundation, was appointed president. In 2005, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il granted Joo an audience in Pyongyang.

The four-page document says an ideal candidate would have "national and international news experience; foreign reporting experience" and a "savvy understanding of the nuances of Washington, D.C. politics and culture as an ambassador of a news organization that moves in the power circles of government and business." Also desired: An "ability to navigate inside-the-Beltway influences" while approaching news "from the perspective of an informed consumer with outside-the-Beltway interests."

Not to mention a "hands-on style with reporters balanced by rigorous experience managing relations with a global network of news sources." And a "leadership ethic that inspires newsroom habits and practices resulting in efficiency, effectiveness and excellence," while -- of course -- nurturing "a culture of innovation, creativity and excellence."

Only a few bullet points hint at the fact that the Times is a self-described conservative newspaper. The new editor must have "respect for the vision of the founder of News World Communications and The Washington Times, which aims to further the values of faith, family and freedom, while conveying a global awareness, urbanity and sensitivity." The founder, who is not named, is the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

The editor must also be "comfortable with a center-right editorial page perspective." And appreciate "the importance of America's prudent application of its economic, military and cultural power in a complicated world," along with an "editorial mission that encompasses aggressive coverage of human rights globally and to advancing the cause of world peace."

An e-mail seeking comment from Howard-Sloan-Koller was met with an enthusiastic response -- and a request for a resume -- until it was made clear that the note was not a job application.

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