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Garrett Graff Gets Top Job at Washingtonian

Garrett Graff (foreground) and Jack Limpert (second from left) attend a meeting at Washingtonian's offices in June 2006. Also pictured are Ken DeCell (left) and Sherri Dalphonse (center). (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post)

Huge shakeup at the Washingtonian: After 40 years at the monthly magazine, top editor Jack Limpert is stepping down, to be replaced by Garrett Graff, the hotshot 28-year-old executive editor who joined the staff four years ago.

Graff will start his new job Sept. 1, becoming just the third editor-in-chief in the magazine's 44-year history. Limpert, 75, will remain as editor-at-large, according to a memo to the staff Wednesday morning.

"This is a great perch at a great publication," Graff told us. "This is the golden age of Washington, the most exciting time in the city's history. It's exciting to be a part of that."

Graff began at Washingtonian in 2005 as editor of Capital Comment, the gossipy front section of local personalities and news. In April of this year, he was named executive editor -- a clear signal he was being groomed to take over Limpert's job.

In Limpert's heyday in the '80s, the magazine won national awards and was a must-read for power brokers. "One of things about Jack that was so brilliant is that he really understood how Washington worked and knew all the players," said a former staffer. But the magazine fell into a rut of annual "Best" lists (lawyers, doctors, weekends, restaurants). Sources at the magazine say Limpert's days were numbered after publisher Phil Merrill died in 2006, and his daughter, Cathy Merrill Williams, took over the operation.

"Jack and I were looking for someone to fill Jack's shoes -- and they are big shoes," said Williams, who called Graff "smart, practical and well respected." She said she wasn't concerned about Graff's relatively short tenure in the nation's capital. "We run as a team. Jack is just moving down the hall, so there's a lot of experience at our magazine -- including me, who was born in the District."

Washingtonian is Graff's first magazine gig, although he grew up on journalism -- his father was a bureau chief for the Associated Press in Vermont. After graduating with a history degree from Harvard (where he worked on the Harvard Crimson), he joined Howard Dean's presidential campaign and blogged on FishbowlDC before being tapped by the magazine to write and to energize the Web site.

"I come at this position with a variety of different backgrounds," Graff said. "I've worked on campaigns, been a blogger, I'm working on my second book -- so I bring a lot of different views and hats to being a magazine editor. One of the things that is really clear right now in journalism is that we all need fresh perspectives."

He said he had no intention of "meddling with the fundamental aspects of the magazine" but planned to better emphasize what it can do: This month's cover feature, for example, is a lengthy, gripping account of how firefighters rescued triplets from a house fire. He's inheriting a staff hit by layoffs and declining advertising revenue -- but also a publisher who's not worried about the future: "The magazine is doing very well," she said.

Limpert could not be reached for comment -- he was playing a midweek round of charity golf for the Yellow Ribbon Fund.

By The Reliable Source  |  August 12, 2009; 2:31 PM ET
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Wow. This guy is an Ivy Leaguer? Can you beat that? What a shock. Gee.

Posted by: Craig_Colgan | August 13, 2009 12:54 AM | Report abuse

Further proof, if needed, of the decline of print journalism -- fresh perspectives, indeed!

Posted by: esthermiriam | August 13, 2009 2:57 AM | Report abuse

"Washingtonian is Graff's first magazine gig, although he grew up on journalism -- his father was a bureau chief for the Associated Press in Vermont. After graduating with a history degree from Harvard (where he worked on the Harvard Crimson), he joined Howard Dean's presidential campaign and blogged on FishbowlDC before being tapped by the magazine to write and to energize the Web site."

Gee, was his much more experienced father available for the job the son wound up with?

Son's "experience" -- Harvard Crimson....gossip sections in DC....internet "journalism"....not very impressive.

I can see where he could contribute energy and new insights as subsidiary editor but not as the boss.

Posted by: PostToastie | August 13, 2009 3:17 AM | Report abuse

So how much longer do we give this magazine? I too remember it in its heyday.

There is nothing wrong with youth per se. But this youth? 28? No prior magazine experience?

Until the Washingtonian croaks in a year or two, it should provide this lucky guy a good "lab" to learn the craft and polish his resume. Who knows...he may become Obama's "Print Media Czar" once he closes the doors on the Washingtonian.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | August 13, 2009 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Half the magazine is now special advertising sections designed to look like articles. More and more of the editorial content is coming from the sales department.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | August 13, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

I use to love the Washingtonian but I seriously doubt their management. A guy with not even five years experience is moved to top management.

Posted by: rlj1 | August 13, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

The Washingtonian is a rag. Always has been. Nothing more than "best restaurants/lawyers/doctors etc in DC," (except they usually aren't) local media personality profiles like the new blonde sportscaster or weatherperson in town (who are invariably vapid and uninteresting) and a what could charitably be described as second rate writing. In others words: a glossy gossip sheet for simpletons. So excited they hired a 28 year old Harvard grad to carry on the sorry tradition. He's probably overqualified.

Posted by: dbunkr | August 13, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Have to agree w/dbunkr. There is no real journalism in Washingtonian, nor is there in any of the so-called "city magazines." They read like glossy local chamber of commerce handouts. Anyone who was in DC in 80s will remember Regardie's, the mag that mostly covered DC business but did so with style and stretched itself on occasion to cover other topics. Eventually, Bill Regardie (who owned New Homes Guide before selling it to the Post) had to fold it due to declining revenue, but for a while, it was a magazine this city could be proud of. Never heard anyone say that about Washingtonian.

Posted by: jhpurdy | August 13, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Wow, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for my invitation to the sure to be forthcoming "Salons" with industry flacks, government employees, and assorted hairdresser, window dressers and cross dressers at Cathy Merrill William's sublet.

Or maybe I could just get Graff to scribble one out for me on a cocktail napkin at JRs.

Posted by: SoCali | August 13, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Can you say "will work cheap"?

Posted by: SoCali | August 13, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

I've been on the fence about renewing my Washingtonian subscription, but now I think I'll let it lapse. Too bad about this magazine.

Posted by: Jeannie8 | August 13, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

This is a great move for the Washingtonian. Good for them. I'm subscribing. The Nation's Capitol deserves to have a magazine that is smart, inspired, forward thinking and motivated, just like the their new editor-in-chief.

Posted by: dreid76 | August 14, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Ben Bradlee he ain't.

Posted by: lydgate | August 15, 2009 12:55 AM | Report abuse

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