As Washington knows by now, after 11 years, Hugo Gurdon has left his perch as editor-in-chief of The Hill to go to work for the struggling Washington Examiner as editorial director.
Word trickling out of the Examiner newsroom is that his main emphasis so far in meetings with staff is that the Examiner must focus on being “mainstream.” The rumor floating around is that MediaDC’s CEO Lou Ann Sabatier hired him to make the product more moderate so that it would be easier to sell.
Sabatier has a different take. Reached by phone, she remarked, “I’ve spent hours and hours with him [Hugo] and he’s in line with my vision. From my newsroom perspective, it is going to be what it is, but even better. It is not going to be more moderate, but right down the middle–it has always been that. We are still going to have center-right commentary. We are not changing the mission. Hugo was hired to further implement [our original mission], we just needed that skill set with a business perspective. There might be a little less commentary, but it is still a publication that is straight down the middle.”
In terms of whether all this effort and change is ultimately to sell the pub, Sabatier says no way. “I have no clue where that came from,” she said. “My orders come straight from Denver. There is no inkling or desire to sell this. They are dead wrong. One thing that is critical that Hugo will bring which will make it more viable is the original vision as well as more on policy. We have been lighter than what we want to be on policy. That you will see change very quickly.”
As Sabatier told Media Shepherd in May, the changes at the Washington Examiner were “a total pivot for the brand. Everything was different except for the name. We changed content, positioning, the distribution model, all tied to a new mission for that publication.”
Philip Anschutz also owns The Weekly Standard. Since the Examiner killed off daily print circulation, observers chatter that he hardly needs two DC-based conservative political publications that compete for the same readership.
Gurdon has his work cut out for him. The Weekly Standard clearly has more online traffic and a higher profile. The Examiner, meanwhile, is challenged in the traffic department. According to media insiders, they have decent content but a tougher time creating a brand identity anyone has heard of.
A longtime media observer told The Mirror, “I have a habit of asking people everywhere when I meet them, “What do you read every day?” Nobody says the Examiner. Ever.”
The Mirror also sought comment from Stephen Smith, editor of the Examiner magazine, and Gurdon. Grace Terzian, who handles communications, said she was reluctant to comment. She, too, was on vacation last week, but said she knows Gurdon had met with the staff. Asked if the paper was gearing up to be sold, she said, “That is certainly not the case as far as I know.”
Full disclosure: Hugo Gurdon is my former boss when I worked for The Hill.
UPDATE: Smith wrote The Mirror from London. He writes, “Hugo has shown at The Hill that he can turn a profit, but I can’t imagine that the ownership is thinking about a sale.”