Byron York Leaves <i>National Review</i> For <i>Examiner</i>, And Why It Matters

I think this is a big loss for the. York has long been a major figure among conservative writers, and he takes with him an outstanding, full-spectrum career in political journalism.

So, with a note and some thank yous, Byron York is out the door at the National Review:

I have some news to share with you, and it is that I have decided to leave National Review. Starting next Monday, I will be the chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner. Making the decision to leave has been extremely difficult for me, because my years at -- I joined in the last days of 2000, just after the Florida Recount -- have been a great pleasure. I've not only had a chance to work with the extraordinary people here, but I've also been given the freedom to cover and write about the topics that most interest me. That's a real blessing.

I think this is a big loss for the National Review. York has long been a major figure among conservative writers, and he takes with him an outstanding, full-spectrum career in political journalism. York's got the chops to show up on Meet The Press, the pages of The Atlantic, in a pundit box on Hardball, on the air at NPR, and, full disclosure, blogging at a place like the Huffington Post. I read the list of folks he's leaving behind - Kathryn Jean Lopez, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jonah Goldberg, Mark Levin, Rich Lowry - and I can't help but think that they'd have to, you know...form Voltron or something, to collectively account for chops they're losing in one person. And, of course, with York, you get someone who's pretty agreeably disagreeable. As one friend put it, York's "one of the only people whose work is generally respected outside the right wing."

And who knows, maybe that's the problem! The National Review's been having a little bit of problem with litmus tests lately, what with the falling out between the magazine and son-of-the-founder Christopher Buckley over Buckley's endorsement of Barack Obama in the 2009 election. Kathleen Parker, who dared suggest that Sarah Palin might possess flaws, is another example of a National Review contributor who paid a price for having independent thoughts. York's shown a similar intellectual devotion - not to Obama's merits or Palin's mistakes specifically, of course, but to being an independent thinker. One of his more facinating pieces was one he wrote for the Atlantic, picking over the mistakes of his former employers at The American Spectator. In that piece, York said the Spectator "became possessed by a self-destructive brand of opposition to Bill Clinton, and in their desire to knock the President out of office they ended up hurting themselves more than him."

One way of looking at York's move from the National Review to the Examiner is to see it as a ramped up career opportunity. He'd be the big fish at a new enterprise, with expanded purviews and opportunities. That's where York puts his focus:

I'm leaving because the Examiner has given me a great opportunity to play a key role in the start of something new. They're ramping up their coverage of politics in this new era, and I hope that in the future, in addition to your regular visits here to NRO, you'll stop by the (soon to be new-and-improved), where my writing and reporting will appear daily.

Still, one can also look at this and wonder if memories of a "self-destructive brand of opposition" wasn't at the back of York's mind, making him the equivalent of a canary fleeing the National Review's coal mine. The clearest sign that this may have been the case is the present state of his new employer's operation. As of right now, the Examiner has not yet ramped up its online operation to meet the level of competition that outfits like Politico offer. Promised enhancements are on the way (York notes said promises in his goodbye), but as of the moment a visit to York's future home takes you to a sleek, but run-of-the-mill news page.

Organizationally, the Examiner is riding out a bit of a rough patch. Last week, the paper announced that it would undergo further contractions and shutter its Baltimore operation in the weeks ahead after failing to find a buyer. The other part of the battle is the fact that, as a brand name, the Examiner is still mostly thought of in Washington, DC as a foil for the Washington Post Express: a free paper hawked by street suppliers at Metro stations.

In short, the Examiner, fairly, has a long way to go before they've feathered the sort of nest in which you'd typically find a Byron York perched. They may get there, yet, but having lived through the ramp up to the launch of Politico, there's nothing Examiner is doing, save hiring York, that reminds me of that publicity blitzkrieg. Meanwhile, I have to wonder: just how bad has life at the National Review become?