New WSJ will still keep quality, but ignores its history
The Wall Street Journal, which unveils a massive redesign on Tuesday, posted an eight-page primer called a “Reader’s Guide” on its web site explaining all of the changes.
Managing editor Paul Steiger, slated to retire at the end of the year, wrote on the first page of the Guide that the paper will continue to focus on exclusives, analysis and insight.
He wrote, “Our objective remains consistent: To deliver the world’s most spelling and useful daily package of news and analysis for business people.
“And so in the new format we are adopting today, you will find on page one a continued emphasis on the in-depth journalism that is one of our hallmarks. Also on the front page are the What’s News summaries, a 1934 innovation still relied on daily by nearly all of our readers.
“You will also discover innovations that offer clearer navigation not only through the Journal but through the ocean of information that confronts us each day.”
One of the interesting things in the Reader’s Guide is the fact that the Journal has a “history” of the paper on the last page. It doesn’t have a byline, unlike most of the other pieces in the eight-page guide.
There might be a reason for the lack of a byline. The “history” reads as if the paper hired its advertising department to put it together. The selective disclosure is embarrassing to the “in-depth journalism” that Steiger references.
For example, the history mentions that the Journal “flourished through the stock market heyday” of the 1920s, but it fails to mention that owner Clarence Barron asked reporters to write stories about stocks that he owned, and that some of the journalists were taking money from people on Wall Street to write favorably about investments, during that time period. (Barron’s last name is misspelled in the ninth paragraph of the “history” as well.)
These journalists were later the subject of a 1932 Senate investigation. In addition, the Journal’s coverage of the October 1929 stock market crash was, to put it mildly, overly optimistic, and the paper’s reputation — and circulation — suffered dramatically.
For example, on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29, the Dow Jones Industrial Average â€“ an index created by the Journal â€“ recorded two of its four largest drops ever. Yet on the morning of Oct. 30, the newspaper led with a headline â€œStocks steady after declineâ€? and a lead that read, â€œThe stock market passed through its record day of business on Tuesday with the general level of prices reaching new lows. There were signs of support buying, however, as well as investor purchases having some effect on the widespread break.â€?
The “history” also fails to mention more important issues in the paper’s history than some of those mentioned. For example, there was the increased competition by daily newspapers and Investor’s Business Daily that forced it to add additional sections in the 1980s. (The additional sections are mentioned, but not the reason why. Steiger’s vaunted “analysis” is missing from this piece.)
There was also the fact that the “history” makes no mention of the papers’ “Heard on the Street” column, often considered one of its most powerful pieces of business journalism, but also the source of one of its biggest embarrassments when reporter Foster Winans gave information from the column to traders in the 1980s.
Finally, the “history” makes one brief mention of former managing editor Barney Kilgore, considered the most influential business journalist of the past 100 years.
There are plenty of histories that have been written about the Journal, so all of these facts are basic information to anyone who has studied the history of the paper. For the Journal to exclude these facts while focusing only on the positive is, again, embarrassing to those who practice quality journalism in its newsrooms.