Still, I miss the Journal’s depth and insight into business coverage. It’s just not as interesting a read as it was before Murdoch. The formerly wonderful and eclectic Marketplace section has been gutted, for instance, and a lot of the paper’s former personality has gone by the wayside. That’s what made it valuable and unique, and I daresay it’s one of the things that made its much-vaunted online subscription model a success. Subscribers paid for the online(and offline) version of the Journal because there was nothing like it as a source of vital, interesting and readable financial news and information.
As a general-interest publication, however, the Journal is much less distinct.
But “mediocre”? I don’t think so.
And while the Journal still is often very good and sometimes, yes, great, one of the reasons so many of us opposed Murdoch’s bid for the paper back in 2007 was because the perception of taint for a news organization can be nearly as bad as actual interference. Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly compromised his company’s journalism to advance News Corp. corporate interests and played a raw, bullying power game in capitals around the world—London, for one. Even if he never laid a finger on the place, the Journal’s credibility would never be the same if he owned it. His long history of meddling and of crudely using his news outlets to enhance his power introduced doubt that just hadn’t been there with the previous owners.
That Murdoch sacked editor Marcus Brauchli (along with the Journal’s well-respected lawyer Stuart Karle) and installed his own pal within four months of inking the deal, and despite promises that he wouldn’t interfere in the newsroom, made the problem that much worse.
As has the fact that the WSJ’s newly former CEO, longtime Murdoch sideman Les Hinton oversaw the papers involved in the scandal and helped cover it up when he was CEO of News International. I can’t imagine Peter Kann, though flawed as a business leader, perp-walked for anything, much less a journalism scandal. It’s less difficult with Hinton, who until a couple of days ago held Kann’s old job (and Barney Kilgore’s) as CEO of Dow Jones. In News Corp.’s higher reaches, a willingness to go too far is the price of admission, as David Carr wrote today in a tremendous column.
That the Journal did its best to stuff the News of the World scandal until it no longer could has further damaged its credibility. What set Nocera off was a house interview with Rupert himself, which Nocera called “craven.” It’s certainly not the paper’s finest hour or anything.
But let’s be realistic here: It’s almost impossible to cover yourself. Does anyone expect the Journal to unleash a Guardian-style campaign on Rupert Murdoch (one major reason why it’s so problematic for him to own it in the first place, as Dean said last week)? It was Nocera himself, (back then at Fortune) who wrote the best piece on Dow Jones’s Telerate fiasco back in the 1990s, not the Journal.
What we should expect is that the WSJ, as a comprehensive business paper, will report the news as it develops, disclose its ownership, and display the story appropriately for its readers. But, true, it ignored or underplayed the story for too long.
I think London bureau chief Bruce Orwall, who wrote the story and presumably conducted the interview Nocera is exercised about, worked with what he had in a bad situation, and that wasn’t much. But he still got some real value out of it. Here’s Orwall’s second paragraph:
In an interview, Mr. Murdoch said News Corp. has handled the crisis “extremely well in every way possible,” making just “minor mistakes.”
I understand how that could be perceived as Pravda-esque, but I really don’t think it was. It reads to me like the Journal gave Rupert enough rope to hang himself—in this instance with an astonishing quote showing the old man is either off his head or thinks we are, or both.
It’s not much of a stretch to think that that quote was one of the things that forced News Corp.’s board to finally assert itself.
Again, we’ve kept as close an eye as anyone on what Murdoch’s done to the Journal, and been loud about what’s gone wrong. I can understand to some extent why folks like Nocera, along with Barry Ritholtz and others, have thrown up their hands.
We’ve never given up on the Journal, and we still haven’t. It’s too important an institution. And we praise their good stuff their all the time. These days, the paper is in a minefield and deserves extra scrutiny.