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[This Just In]

Warsh is out, and a new ombudsman is in


One of the Boston Globe’s more visible columnists is about to become invisible. Earlier this week, David Warsh confirmed a story that had been circulating around the Globe newsroom for several days: that his business-section column has been canceled, and that he’ll be writing his final piece before the end of the month.

"I was quite surprised," says Warsh, who probably wasn’t really that surprised. After all, editor Marty Baron, since his arrival last August, had made it clear that he was not a fan of Warsh’s column. Just a month ago, Warsh told me that Baron had asked for changes, adding, "I’ve been trying to accommodate him, consistent with what the column historically has been about" (see "Don’t Quote Me," News and Features, December 7). Whatever Warsh tried to do, it was apparently too little, too late.

Warsh’s pending departure was not the only news out of 135 Morrissey Boulevard this week, or even necessarily the most significant. On Tuesday, Baron sent out a memo to the staff — posted almost immediately on Jim Romenesko’s Web site — announcing that veteran editor Chris Chinlund will become the ombudsman, replacing Jack Thomas, who stepped aside in August to resume his previous job as a Globe features writer.

Chinlund, who edited the Sunday Focus section until it was downsized from five pages to two last spring, had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the ombudsman’s position early on (see "Don’t Quote Me," News and Features, August 24). Instead, she chose to accept the foreign editor’s job when the incumbent, Nils Bruzelius, accepted a "buyout" to take early retirement last June, part of a management cost-cutting effort that resulted in the elimination of 185 jobs, about a quarter of them in the newsroom.

"She has a sophisticated knowledge of newspapers, our mission and our obligations, and she knows the Globe thoroughly," Baron said in his memo. "Most importantly for this job, she is independent-minded, and we’re counting on that independence as she assumes her new role." In a brief interview on Wednesday morning, Baron told me that he expects Chinlund to begin her new job in late March, and that her term will likely last two or three years. He also anticipates that she, like her predecessors, will write a column for the op-ed page every two weeks.

Chinlund will be replaced as foreign editor by James Smith, currently the Mexico City bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and a native of the Boston area.

Meanwhile, Warsh, who’s in his late 50s and has been with the Globe since 1978 (he previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes), is hoping to take early retirement under the same "buyout" arrangements that he could have accepted last spring. "They haven’t said anything, I’m just hoping," he says. "This is in such an early state that I don’t want to talk about it any more."

Baron declined to comment on Warsh’s situation.

Warsh’s column, which appeared on Sundays and Tuesdays, was quirky and eclectic, but it also could be maddeningly obscure, often focusing on the academic research of brilliant but difficult economic thinkers.

What was perhaps his best-known column was quite different from those pieces, however. In the closing days of the 1996 US Senate campaign between Democratic incumbent John Kerry and his Republican challenger, then-governor Bill Weld, Warsh wrote that the Viet Cong soldier whom Kerry had killed 27 years earlier may have already been wounded — a possible "war crime," Warsh added helpfully.

Warsh’s column fell apart almost immediately, as the one source whom he had quoted in support of his theory popped up at a Kerry news conference to defend his former commander and to denounce Warsh (see "Don’t Quote Me," News, November 1, 1996).

The column never should have run. But Warsh, to his credit, defended his work, answered all of his critics, and never tried to duck.

Issue Date: January 10 - 17, 2002

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