Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz joins the Daily Beast

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The Daily Beast stunned media insiders Tuesday by announcing that Howie Kurtz, the Washington Post's long-running media reporter, is joining the site as its new Washington bureau chief.

Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, said on her own site that Kurtz will "lead our reporting in the capital and on the campaign trail" and write on media, politics and how the two intersect. Brown added that Kurtz "knows that today the interaction of media and politics is the story."

Kurtz, who spent 29 years at the Washington Post, isn't the only high-profile Washington journalist of late to leave a print publication for an online shop. Howard Fineman recently decamped for the Huffington Post after 30 years with Newsweek, one of several veterans to head for the door since the Washington Post Co. sold the magazine.

"I see the Daily Beast as a tremendous and exciting opportunity to be part of the digital future at what's, essentially, a 2-year-old startup," Kurtz told The Upshot in a phone interview, adding that the new job is "a chance to develop some different muscles and help shape the product and expand the Washington presence."

"The Washington Post remains a great newspaper and since I essentially grew up here, it's very difficult to leave," Kurtz continued. "But I see myself as an online entrepreneur, and it can be harder to innovate while working for a big corporation that has an established way of doing things."

It's true that large newspapers typically include more bureaucratic red tape to cut through than a smaller shop. Former Post stars John Harris and Jim VandeHei left the paper in late to 2006 to launch a political news operation -- which later became Politico -- that probably couldn't have been created under the existing Post structure. (Disclosure: I used to work there.)

"It's a little bit of a leap into the unknown, but I think Politico is a shining example of taking a chance and building something new," Kurtz said. "I am tremendously attracted to the idea of trying to build something new."

The Post has always covered a lot of ground, whether in nearby counties or on the front lines of foreign wars. Even after four buyouts that reduced staff, it remains a large operation. Kurtz described the paper as "a big battleship that's harder to turn."

Post staffers were surprised by the news of Kurtz's departure, which they learned about from the Daily Beast announcement rather than a company memo. Within the Post's newsroom, sources say that Kurtz may have left partly because of frustration over the placement of his stories and the paper's direction under Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, who took the reins in fall 2008.

Kurtz, however, denies that Brauchli was the reason for leaving.

"I've had a good relationship with Marcus since he came here, and I don't have any fundamental problem with the direction of the paper," Kurtz said. "It was more a question of trying to invent something new, which can be harder to do at a major media company."

The Daily Beast currently has a small office in the National Press Club building, but Kurtz said the "idea is to expand the stable of reporters and contributors and make a mark on Washington in a way that's only possible in the hyper-speed universe of nimble websites."

Funded by Barry Diller's IAC/Interactive Corp, the Daily Beast is currently in talks with new Newsweek owner Sidney Harman about a potential partnership, according to the New York Post.

Kurtz, in addition to his new job, will continue to host CNN's "Reliable Sources," a Sunday morning media affairs show.

UPDATE: Brauchli—along with Style editor Ned Martel and managing editor Liz Spayd—addressed Kurtz's departure in an afternoon memo obtained by The Upshot. They write: "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." Kurtz, they write, "single-handedly has defined this huge sector, whether he was communicating in newsprint, in books, online or on television." The Post plans to replace Kurtz, and is now looking for "a lively, nuanced writer with drive and enthusiasm, and the ability to keep ahead of the changing media world and its impact on politics."

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