The Wall Street Journal has a difficult job covering itself and the radical changes it faces with News Corp.’s takeover of Dow Jones & Co. Even so, it did a poor job last week.
The Journal’s Thursday coverage of the takeover’s close reads like a warmed-over Dow Jones press release:
Appointment of the new management team is the beginning of what many expect to be a series of sweeping changes at the company
Unfortunately for Journal readers, but happily for those of The New York Times, the latter published a story that actually details some of those changes and how sweeping they will be:
But Mr. Murdoch has already seized the reins of Dow Jones and The Journal, setting in motion what amounts to an overhaul of the look, content and staff of one of the world’s most prized newspapers.
“He’s not wasting any time,” said one Dow Jones executive “He’s already calling the shots, making decisions. We know that’s his M.O., but it’s amazing to see.”
There has even been talk of a front page with articles short enough to start and end there rather than continuing on inside pages, and of taking the words “Wall Street” out of the paper’s name to give it broader appeal, according to people who have been briefed on the matter. Both ideas were quickly dismissed
The Times also tells us that the daily Marketplace section—known internally as the “second front”—is a goner by summertime, though the Times doesn’t say what might replace it, and that up to three dozen news staffers are being cut to make room for newcomers. That leads the Times to a smart bit of analysis:
A year from now the newspaper could have a large contingent of reporters and editors hired under Mr. Murdoch and not rooted in The Journal’s traditions. They would also be people who did not live through the anxious months when many newsroom employees opposed the takeover and questioned Mr. Murdoch’s journalistic ethics. “It has the makings of a pretty big cultural shift,” a veteran reporter said.
None of this made its way into the Journal.
As we said, it’s hard to cover yourself. After stumbling at the start of the News Corp. deal, when top editors sat on news of the offer for a week until it broke elsewhere, the Journal recovered its poise. The difficulty increases now that Journal reporters and editors are News Corp. employees. But that very difficulty makes the task all the more important.
Oddly enough, there was insightful criticism of News Corp. in the WSJ on Thursday. But it came not from the Journal newsroom, but from the daily column it farms out to breakingviews.com, of which Dow Jones is a minority owner.
Breakingviews notes that News Corp. sold its 41 percent stake in Gemstar-TV Guide International a week earlier for $1 billion—about $6.6 billion less than what it paid for it.
It’s a new world, but it’s still unusual for a leading financial paper to outsource such a basic a function as business-news analysis. It seems especially wrong-footed for the Journal to leave it to outside commentators to dissect News Corp.’s deal-making skills, particularly on the day the company closed on Dow Jones.
A big “whoops” at Bloomberg this week cost some investors a lot of money. A misleading headline on the wires caused newspaper chain McClatchy’s stock to shoot up 32 percent in less than 10 minutes, only to give the entire gain back in twenty-four hours.
On Thursday at about 3:15 p.m., according to a transcript, a Bloomberg TV anchor asked investor Michael Price about McClatchy Newspapers Inc (ticker: MNI):
Price: The margins are the best in the business. It is thinly controlled. It is up to the family to take it private at some point.
Anchor: You think they will?
The markets didn’t think much about the interview, and the stock continued to slide for the next half hour or so to put McClatchy down 3.5 percent on the day. Then a few minutes before the market’s close, Bloomberg put this headline on the wires: “Michael Price Says McClatchy Family May Take Company Private.” Check out the chart via Marketwatch:
The headline wasn’t the whole story, because it left out the crucial “at some point” qualifier. Traders make split-second decisions and rely on the financial news services to give them fast, accurate news. It took less than 15 minutes for the market to begin figuring out Bloomberg had slipped up. By then McClatchy’s market capitalization had jumped by about $300 million, only to vanish by the closing bell on Friday.
Bloomberg representatives didn’t respond to The Audit’s requests for comment.