Back in the summer of 2007, when the world was a cartoon version of today and Dow Jones & Co. was just a steaming leg of lamb in News Corp.’s thought balloon, media writers and other philosophers, including The Audit, were atwitter about the implications of the snapping, snarling owner of the Sunday Tasmanian taking control of the world’s leading monitor of corporate behavior, financial markets, and the economy.

Sophisticates—Jon Fine of BusinessWeek, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair—argued that it didn’t matter, or that it was a good thing, or, anyway, what can you do, everything happens for a reason.


“More Groundless Journalistic Handwringing Over Murdoch and Dow Jones.”


Journalism at the Wall Street Journal level is an Ivy League profession (or it’s people who would have liked to have gone to the Ivy League), with a set of conceits about process and legitimacy and respectability. Journalism on the Murdoch level is a rougher trade, faster, more direct, less “precious” (and graduating from a crappy college isn’t a problem).

Etc., etc.

Ah, those were the days.

Conceited faux elites like myself said that the issue wasn’t the straw-man arguments made at the time—that Rupert Murdoch’s company would put Page Three Girls in the Journal or inject conservative politics into its news pages. But yes, we wept and moaned and rent our puffy shirts because we thought the journalism—in depth, well-written, investigative—would suffer. Fussy us. That’s just a process, or something, right? Anyway, what’s the difference anyway who owns what?

MORTON, Miss. — They call it “the chain,” a swift steel shackle that shuttles dead chickens down a disassembly line of hangers, skinners, gut-pullers and gizzard-cutters. The chain has been rattling at 90 birds a minute for nine hours when the woman working feverishly beside me crumples onto a pile of drumsticks. “No more,” she whimpers. [1]

It’s true I wish I was as comfortable as Wolff with rough, trade-y things, but (sniffle) I’m working on those issues, and, luckily, have a lot of support (sob). It’s just that I’m sentimental sometimes and spend a lot of time yearning for the old days, when the Journal did a lot of respectable stories about process:

The day before Chen Zixiu died, her captors again demanded that she renounce her faith in Falun Dafa. Barely conscious after repeated jolts from a cattle prod, the 58-year-old stubbornly shook her head. Enraged, the local officials ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood, said cellmates and other prisoners who witnessed the incident. She crawled outside, vomited and collapsed. She never regained consciousness, and died on Feb. 21. [2]

That’s kind of a process, right? State murder?

Anyway, this week pro-Murdochian sun worshippers must have been delighted—punching each other in the shoulder, hoisting boilermakers, waving NCAA brackets, etc.—over the memo (h/t: Chris Roush) issued by Mudoch’s top editor, Robert Thomson, saying that those formerly elite Journal reporters are going to have to stop work on those useless, long-form stories looking into, oh, I don’t know—U.S. tax money secretly going to Deutsche Bank, one-time banker to the Third Reich—and will be judged, “in significant part,” on the amount of news they can break for Dow Jones Newswires, which, apparently, has been losing ground to the better-financed competitors at Bloomberg and Reuters.

Writing for the Newswires, where the emphasis is on speed and productivity, is supposed to be very different from writing for the Journal, where the emphasis is on depth. That distinction has been blurring for years, to the detriment of the paper. Now, the process is accelerating:

Our structure must complement the needs of all Dow Jones readers and reflect the contemporary value of what is crudely called “content”. A breaking corporate, economic or political news story is of crucial value to our Newswires subscribers, who are being relentlessly wooed by less worthy competitors. Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer – that same story can be repurposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time.

Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires. This is a fundamental shift in orientation which will also require a fundamental change in the inaptly named Speedy system.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.