Audit Notes: WSJ and FCPA, Apple Access, The Times Paywall

The Wall Street Journal editorial page comes out swinging against the Justice Department’s “latest prosecutorial attack on business” via the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits American companies from bribing foreign countries.

The Journal, naturally, is unhappy that corporations are getting big fines for corrupt practices: a total of $2.3 billion in the last two years, it reports.

But there’s another way to read this editorial: as a brushback pitch. Note this paranthetical down in the tenth paragraph:

(Disclosure: Attorney General Eric Holder has said his department is investigating News Corp., our parent company, under the bribery law as part of the phone-hacking scandal in Britain. If Justice tries to portray payments made as part of traditional news-gathering as criminal acts, the list of felons won’t stop at the tabloids.)

Oh, that.

At least now we have The Wall Street Journal on record effectively condoning not just paying sources, but paying police and Defense Ministry officials for information.

— The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple has some good thoughts on access journalism and the consequences of tough reporting.

He notes that The Wall Street Journal got a big scoop today, an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook. Plus, as Wemple notes:

The ouch gets ouchier as the blog post quotes a blogger John Gruber from Daring Fireball . Gruber, as it turns out, had gotten a sit-down with (Apple marketing chief Phil) Schiller, right in the Times’ back yard:

A blogger. Oh noes!

Wemple notes that all this comes shortly after the Times’s fantastic iEconomy series, which reported at length on the poor working conditions faced by Apple’s outsourced workforce.

Hard-edged reporting of that sort carries a price when it comes to a company like Apple. You may not be on the short­list the next time the company debuts one of its products….

Under normal circumstances, that combination of shortcomings would qualify as an embarrassment for the New York Times. Yet if the lack of access is even remotely related to Apple’s dim view of the paper’s investigative reporting, the paper may take pride in losing the hunt for “Mountain Lion.”


— PaidContent looks at how digital subscriptions at News Corp.’s Times of London are helping keep circulation relatively steady despite the plunge in print purchases.

While print circulation of the daily paper has fallen by a little less than 41,000—or 10 percent—over the last year, paid digital circulation has risen by a little more than 40,000 over the same stretch. Digital has only made up for about half of the Sunday Times print circulation declines in the same time, though.

The Times’s paywall, unfortunately, is all or nothing, which means that, while it’s bolstering its subscription revenue, it’s losing out on much of the Web traffic and ads its formerly free site used to get:

The Times’ web traffic has fallen from 20 million monthly uniques, but consider that, in the paid environment, a whole fifth of The Times’ sales are now digital. What’s more, those customers are long-term subscribers.

I’d expect that paywall to spring some leaks a la The New York Times before too long.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.