After a series of character-sapping changes over the past 10 years, the Wall Street Journal is contemplating yet another makeover, this time of its Marketplace section. Owner Rupert Murdoch is looking to replace many of the columns and feature stories on the front of Marketplace with hard news, the Times reports in tomorrow's paper. Page One has already undergone similar changes. Stories have been shortened. Murdoch is adding some truth to the lie uttered by Charlie Sheen's character Bud Fox in 1980s movie Wall Street: "having sex with her is like reading the Wall Street Journal, 'cept the Journal don't talk back."
When Sheen delivered that line, the Journal actually had plenty of verve and variety, appreciated by loyal readers. But much variety, at least, has been lost over the past ten years, stripped away under the Bancrofts and then Murdoch.
An early casualty was the orphan, a small square in the lower right corner of the Marketplace section that usually carried a very brief, very quirky story.
Then went the topical Column 5, second from the right on the front page, that each day hosted roundups like Washington Wire and Capital (the columns got relocated).
Then the gloriously wide paper narrowed, to five columns from six.
When Murdoch's News Corp. acquired the Journal, Murdoch made clear his intention to make the front page even newsier. Story lengths were trimmed. There has even been talk about diluting or eliminating the storied "A-Hed" feature column in the center of the front page.
With each change, the Journal became more like Pearson's Financial Times, and also more like the television and internet outlets it once set itself apart from with smart "second day" stories.
Meanwhile Murdoch seems intent on preserving the one part of the paper in need of serious reform, the editorial page.