The Other Inauguration: Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ Man in Washington

But size doesn’t always matter.

“In all honesty, and in no disloyalty, I don’t feel The Times is the total dominant source,” said Todd Purdum, a two-decade Times veteran who is the Washington editor for Vanity Fair. “There is lots of new competition, and that would include Politico and TPM.”

And with these challenges looming in the background, the paper has the basic competitive pressure to produce on the biggest story ever—a new president, wars, a financial crisis, national security. Suddenly, those dusty Pentagon pieces that your eyes glide right over will take on an outsize importance.

Even with a well-burnished reputation at the paper, Mr. Baquet’s future at the paper will be largely judged by what’s accomplished—and what’s not—with the Obama administration.

At first, reporters in D.C. figured Mr. Baquet would have had a short run as bureau chief—two years, and leave right after the election, to take a spot in New York. That was all, of course, before anyone could understand what this election, and what its immediate aftermath, would mean.

“We were all watching to see where he was living and whether he’d buy or rent, and to see if that was an indication,” said one reporter.

For the record, he rented a place in D.C., but Mr. Baquet insists that’s only because he sold his house at the top of the market, and with an imploding housing market, buying high didn’t make too much sense once he moved himself back to the East Coast.

“The sense is he’s just getting started, and he’s still very new there,” said one senior newsroom source.

With Mr. Keller turning 60 two days ago, and five years from mandatory retirement from the editor’s chair, it’s not outrageous to be thinking about the future.

Right now, our sources tell us, Ms. Abramson, who has grown close personally to Mr. Keller as part of the “Bill and Jill” duo that runs the Eighth Avenue building today, is the leader in the sweepstakes to replace him. But!

“If Dean produces some blockbuster stories and manages that bureau well, he’ll keep his name in the race,” the source said.

Mr. Baquet is predictably uninterested in laying odds on himself for the top spot on the masthead.

“Of course it’s important to me personally,” he said. “I don’t think about legacies—otherwise I would have stayed in one place longer!”

The Other Inauguration: Dean Baquet, The New York Times’ Man in Washington