At 11:15 this morning, Wall Street Journal managing editor Marcus Brauchli, Dow Jones CEO Rich Zannino, WSJ publisher Gordon Crovitz and a couple other bigwigs gathered the Journal employees for a 45-minute sit-down. Each of them gave assurances that Rupert Murdoch would not meddle in the paper. Zannino, says a source who was at the meeting, was particularly insistent that there were no down sides to the deal, invoking a quote by former DJ CEO Peter Kann: "News Corp. wouldn't tarnish the trophy they've been coveting for years." That's awfully libertarian of them! But just in case it turns out Murdoch doesn't, in fact, have the paper's best interests at heart, there are a bunch of safeguards in place (like this editorial agreement!) to make sure he doesn't stick his vengeful little paws into the Journal's editorial integrity. Not that the reporters were buying it.
The executives were asked: So, Rupert Murdoch just spent $5 billion on us, and you're telling us he can't come in here and change a thing? Their answer: yes.
"Mostly all the questions from the staff came down to editorial independence," says our source. Zannino and Brauchli emphasized that the editorial agreement is "legal—no one can meddle in news, and Marcus has final say."
They were also asked what in the independence agreement would prevent Murdoch from using the Journal brand in other outlets to, say, produce "Wall Street Journal's Girls Gone Wild On Fox."
There was laughter, including from Brauchli and Zannino.
Reporters also pressed the executives about Murdoch's statements that the Journal's stories are too long. People were also anxious about Murdoch's history of meddling in the editorial content of the papers he owns—particularly at the Times of London.
The response was that, once and for all, Brauchli is in charge, and no one meddles. Should there be any issues about news coverage, Brauchli will take it to the independent board established by the editorial agreement, who will go to court if they need to.
(That seems like an unlikely scenario, doesn't it?)
The execs also mentioned that the paper has never really had to prove themselves before because of its reputation, and now there might be skepticism among readers and sources, and everyone will just have to prove the strength of the brand all over again. (Oh, when will people stop saying "brand"?)
Zannino also mentioned that Murdoch is "very excited to meet everyone." We can't wait for a report from that meeting.