Murdoch's Frantic Journal Surgery

The newest reports on Marcus Brauchli's departure from the Wall Street Journal offer a fresh list of slights inflicted on the outgoing managing editor by Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants, beyond that time the News Corp. chairman forgot to call on Brauchli during an introductory speech to Journal staff. Murdoch and his men also kept Brauchli in the dark about Project Eagle, the Journal's British edition, until one week prior to launch, when Brauchli reportedly discovered it at a New Jersey printing plant, deeming it "cartoonish." Brauchli's chosen editor for the paper's new glossy magazine was tossed aside for a Murdoch lieutenant and his vision for it scrapped. And Brauchli's authority was sufficiently undercut that on a recent trip to the San Francisco bureau he began explicitly invoking Murdoch's name to explain some plans for the future, not even making the pretense of broad consensus among top editors. "My view of that situation is, and I'm hard-pressed to think how anyone could think of it differently, is Rupert Murdoch is the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal," media writer Michael Wolff told the Observer. All the more important, then, to look at new information on where Murdoch wants to take the paper.

One Journal reporter told the Observer, "Marcus said that Murdoch admires a lot of things that are reminiscent of the way Financial Times runs the paper-short, no jump stories." This is not surprising, given that Murdoch's top loyalist at the Journal, Robert Thomson, is a former FT editor, and given Murdoch's stated preference for shorter, newsier stories.

Murdoch expanded on this vision during a January speech to bureau chiefs, according to the Journal:

He praised the paper's "quality, accuracy and depth," but he was also clear that he found the product sometimes a bit stodgy, academic. He said he wanted the paper to be "more attractive," and stories to be told in "as few words as possible." He said he wanted "facts first — news and analysis." He wanted more stories that begin and end on section fronts, complaining of gray "jump pages" — the inside pages on which longer articles are continued.



...The new owners were demanding newsier stories and more general news. Mr. Thomson, who took the floor after Mr. Brauchli, noted that some Journal stories appeared to have the "gestation period of a llama" (that is, nearly a year). He said "the New York Times and the Financial Times are the enemy, but the real enemy is time" — by which he meant the risk of wasting the reader's time. He said stories needed to be shorter and more alluring, and warned of "articles unread, jumps un-jumped, wisdom untapped."

Murdoch also wants his newspaper to sell better at retail, and there is talk of changing headline sizes. It is hoped that a sexier front page, along with more non-business stories, will help broaden appeal to advertisers and readers.

Murdoch is making a dangerous gamble in his hasty push to change the Journal. When he was angling to acquire the paper, the media mogul's apologists said he was too smart and had too much reputation on the line to ruin the WSJ by bending it to his ego. And yet hints have emerged from the Brauchli that Murdoch may be doing just that, and recklessly.

Murdoch had better hope there are plenty more readers like this one, highlighted in the Observer:

"I always used to read The Times first and The Journal second; now I find they are side by side at the breakfast table and I might even start with The Journal," said Simon & Schuster editor in chief and former Time deputy managing editor Priscilla Painton, who cited two reasons for the shift.

"One is that The Journal has been masterful at decoding things that are currently in the news, like the subprime mortgage crisis and the hedge-fund troubles. The second is that The Journal's political reporting has become more pointed and aggressive." Ms. Painton told The Observer. "They seem a half-beat ahead in a way that they weren't six months ago. Political news that I would normally find on A4 or A6, they now put it on the front page, which makes me think, ‘Gee, I guess I really have to read that.'"

[Observer, WSJ]



(Image via WSJ)