OLD Media Moves

The remaking of the WSJ

March 1, 2010

Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine has a long story about News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch that focuses primarily on his attempts to remake The Wall Street Journal to take on The New York Times.

Sherman writes, “Historically, the Journal had treated general news as a commodity for other papers to cover. Instead, it focused journalistic muscle on its deep financial coverage, with a specialty in long narrative articles chronicling boardroom struggles as epic sagas of greed and ambition. While it owned the business beat, its front page was a hybrid of a magazine and a newspaper, defined by its subdued headlines and hand-drawn illustrations. Paul Steiger, the Journal’s longtime editor, used to say that the Journal was a ‘second read.’

“Murdoch and Thomson flatly despised this conception. With newspaper circulation and advertising in retreat, they believed readers had little time for one paper, let alone two. To win, the Journal needed to become an aggressive, general-interest newspaper that would grab readers’ attention at the newsstand and assault the New York Times as the country’s preeminent agenda setter. Over the past year, Thomson, following Murdoch’s direction, made dramatic changes to the paper, insisting on shorter stories and covering natural disasters and plane crashes.

“The transition was jarring. ‘What is this, a high-school newspaper?’ one reporter recalled thinking after an editor sent out an assignment to cover a shooting in upstate New York last spring. The strategy has allowed the paper to make some modest inroads, especially in cities, such as San Francisco, for instance, where the local paper has struggled in the new media environment. But the danger is that redefining it as a general-interest paper—an upscale, edgier USA Today—risks alienating its exceptionally affluent core audience and surrendering its advantage as a business paper.”

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