Stephen Smith, we hardly knew ya!

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The Washington Post‘s Frank Ahrens reports that the Washington Examiner has scored a high-profile new editor, luring him away from our own Chronicle, where he served as the Hearst daily’s D.C. bureau chief for roughly two years:

So why, then, is [Smith] leaving his latest job as head of the Houston Chronicle’s Washington bureau to take over the two-year-old tabloid Examiner, which has a staff of 55 and is given away free?

“I think the Examiner represents a new model of newspapering that really reflects how people want their papers organized, what sort of content they want and how they want [the papers] delivered,” Smith said Friday. “I look at life as an adventure. This is an opportunity to do something new and stretch my talent.”

At the same time, Smith said he had increasingly thought that his strengths and interests as a journalist no longer aligned with what the Houston paper wanted out of its Washington bureau.

“I’ve been here a little over two years, and the newspaper landscape has changed dramatically,” Smith said. “Now the paper is wanting more enterprise stories, and that’s a tricky word. It means different things to different people.”

Like all U.S. newspapers, the Chronicle has had tough times, with circulation and advertising declines. Most papers are beefing up their Web sites and rethinking their coverage in an attempt to make themselves more relevant to readers. For many large papers, that has meant de-emphasizing prestige (and expensive) coverage — such as foreign and Washington bureaus — in favor of highly local coverage.

The Chronicle should seriously consider shutting down its D.C. bureau and beefing up its regional and state coverage, but instead the D.C. bureau just seems to live on, uncertain what it should be beyond a vehicle for Cragg Hines’ frothing, Julie Mason’s blogging, and the occasional fluff piece. Given Smith’s pedigree, he’ll likely be much happier at a newspaper with bigger aspirations.

In an amusing twist, the Chronicle has covered news of Smith’s departure from the Chronicle with an AP story.

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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX