Might Murdoch Skip A Generation At Wall Street Journal?

At a farewell party last week, some Journal staffers bitched that Marcus Brauchli, the managing editor pushed out by the paper's new owners, had sold his silence for a generous severance package. "It was disgusting," one told David Carr of the New York Times. But there was some more intriguing scuttlebutt from the event. Brauchli's predecessor Paul Steiger was overheard saying that Rupert Murdoch's lieutenants were looking externally for a replacement atop the newspaper. The name Steiger mentioned: Andrew Ross Sorkin, the Times' blue-eyed mergers and acquisitions correspondent.

Now, we don't actually believe that Sorkin's a serious candidate for the managing editor role. At 31, Sorkin is less than half the age that Steiger was when he retired from the position last year; Brauchli himself was deemed young for the job when he took over from Steiger at the age of 46. And Sorkin, though credited for the success of the Times' Deal Book finance email newsletter, has little experience as a manager. Steiger may have been misheard; or simply caught up in the swirl of ill-informed gossip that has gripped the Journal since Brauchli's defenestration.

But Robert Thomson, the former editor of Murdoch's London Times before the Australian media mogul dropped him in as publisher of the Journal, has indeed reached out to Sorkin, for some undefined role. (Thomson is pictured here, above Sorkin.)

Here's why Sorkin is actually more plausible a candidate than he looks. First, in the highly competitive UK, where Thomson has spent most of his newspaper career, editors tend to assume responsibility much earlier in their careers. Thomson's successor at the London Times, James Harding, was just 38 years old. Piers Morgan, now reduced to American trash television, was just 28 when made editor of Murdoch's News of the World.

Second, Sorkin has a powerful reputation for breaking business scoops. With excellent contacts among the acquisition advisers who dole out deal stories, Sorkin has pretty much singlehandedly made the New York Times a force on the crucial M&A beat. The Journal no longer has the monopoly it once possessed over day-before news of big deals. One measure of Sorkin's value as a scoop-getter: he's among the most highly paid reporters at the Times, earning about $200,000 per annum.

Finally, the Times reporter, having spent so much time in the company of bankers and executives, has much more understanding of business dictates managers than his peers. Sorkin was one of the reporters most supportive of Murdoch's bold bid for Dow Jones, the Journal's parent company. While Sorkin's articles in the Times rehearsed the traditional criticisms of the tycoon's record as a proprietor, he concluded: "Mr. Murdoch may be the perfect publisher of The Wall Street Journal." Murdoch may well return the sentiment.

We've argued before that the Journal, like many other sclerotic American newspaper organizations, might benefit from a generational change. But it is not as if the newspaper has nurtured that many young editors. If Robert Thomson is determined to raise the metabolism of the Journal, to use Howell Raines' expression, he may be forced to bring in talent from outside. And that will be even more depressing for career Journal editors than last week's putsch. It is galling to report to someone younger; or to an outsider; a manager who has both those characteristics would be positively unbearable.