Missing the Point on the Anglicization of the WSJ

"Come a cropper" is the least of the paper's problems

It’s good to see somebody else notice the Anglicization of the The Wall Street Journal. It’s not good that that somebody focuses on usage problems while ignoring the more-important journalistic ones.

The Big Money editor James Ledbetter carps about Britishisms creeping into the paper. Specifically, this head-scratcher in a Journal page-one story:

“There is no doubt Gwen Stefani has come out a winner in the fashion world, but other celebrity designers have come a cropper amid the recession.”


… the audience for the Journal remains overwhelmingly American, and it serves no one’s purpose to publish a paper that its audience can’t understand. I have noticed a steady increase in the use of British phrases that aren’t commonly, if ever, used by Americans.

The Audit has noticed some new words, too—have you seen all the “mightn’ts” in the paper these days? It would be a shame if the newspaper starts going all “separated by a common language” on us.

But it’s more than just the paper’s language that has strayed from the American style. So have the stories, which offer far less depth and rigor than they did pre-Murdoch.

Our own Dean Starkman saw this coming from a mile away all the way back in May of last year, just after the Marcus Brauchli defenestration:

Good coverage of the greased exit of Marcus Brauchli, including in the Journal itself, revealed that the dispute, for all its media-power-play aspects, is in the end actually an argument over journalism, of all things—more esoterically, even, over journalism forms.

Sure, there were some turf issues, but in the main Brauchli had tried—half-heartedly, it turns out—to mediate between the Journal’s tradition of longer-form, fully developed stories and demands from News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and the publisher he appointed, Robert Thomson, for something else…

This is an Anglo-Australian newspaper model—straight, wire-service-type business news coupled with extensive and often smart analysis inside.

That’s fine, except what’s lost in this scenario is what makes American newspapers distinct from and superior to their Anglo-Australian counterparts: fully developed features, investigations, and just plain original reporting—that is reporting that takes longer than a day.

For more in that vein, read Starkman six months ago on the dumbing down of Journal reporters’ responsibilities.

This is no accident. I’ve written that Murdoch’s moves to date reveal that “he clearly came into the place with a disdain for its way of doing journalism.”

Ledbetter doesn’t get that. Or doesn’t care, anyway:

In general, Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal has had many salutary effects on the paper that far outweigh a few things I could do without.

To each his own and whatnot, but this strikes us as a pretty casual judgment. What salutory effects, exactly? That reading the front page doesn’t take very long?

Hey, it’s not just us Journal alumni moaning about the way things used to be. Here’s Recovering Journalist Mark Potts:

Murdoch’s strategy has not been without cost. Longtime Journal fans (and I’m one) worry that the paper has moved too far away from the insightful, savvy and even entertaining coverage of the business world that had been its bread and butter for decades. The Journal’s day in, day out business reporting—with some very notable exceptions—has become much more pedestrian lately, scrubbed of many of its formerly lovable quirks.

And the NYTPicker put it well:

Once upon a time, a great newspaper called The Wall Street Journal (not to be confused with the product currently on sale at your local newsstand) regularly published what it called “Column One” stories — pieces that put social, political and economic trends into human terms. With a combination of global reporting and multiple short profiles, the WSJ gave its readers a uniquely human dimension to a changing American society.

That WSJ is long gone, of course. Its tragically-altered front page now packages news stories and features in a conventional format and reduces stories to bare-bones accounts. The WSJ has all but abandoned its mission to offer unique human-interest journalism on important topics to an audience starved for it.

And read Liza Featherstone who wrote about the Journal’s “Identity Crisis” in the May/June issue of CJR

All this has real consequences. Rupert Murdoch, to put it nicely, is no Barney Kilgore.

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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 rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.