What's the key to being seen as an authentic Midwesterner? Being from someplace else first.
Arthur Brisbane, the new public editor of the The New York Times, is steeped in establishment ways. He grew up in on Long Island, went to Harvard and lives on Cape Cod. His grandfather worked as an editor for the towering publisher William Randolph Hearst.
But on the East Coast, Brisbane is seen as a quintessentially Midwestern figure, all because he spent much of his career working for newspapers in Kansas City.
The years Brisbane spent working at the Kansas City Times and The Kansas City Star defined his career. He was a reporter, columnist, editor and publisher before becoming an executive at the Knight Ridder chain, which the McClatchy Co. acquired in 2006. (Brisbane broke up his time in Kansas City with a six-year stint at The Washington Post in the 1980s.)
Middle America left a bigger impression on Brisbane than he left on it. His time in Kansas City has made him seem exotic to people in the world's media capitals, who are always talking about how nice he seems.
"He has a Midwestern sincerity about him, which is hard to find," Larry Kramer, a former Post editor, tells American Journalism Review.
Brisbane posed for the AJR profile as he begins his three-year term as the ombudsman at The New York Times. In the position, Brisbane will comment on way the Times collects and presents all the news that's fit to print. Clark Hoyt, the outgoing public editor, says Brisbane is a first-class journalist and a "very nice person."
To hear the voices from the East, Brisbane will bring to the public editor role the perspective of a man who speaks in even tones, enjoys three-legged sack races and mowed Harry Truman's lawn as a boy. Times editor Bill Keller says Brisbane seemed to him like "someone who had his head screwed on straight."
Brisbane's level-headedness will appear in the Times at least twice a month.