We’ve talked quite a bit about the FT-ization of the Journal since Murdoch got his grubby paws on it, shoved out Marcus Brauchli (who tried to stop Rupe’s myopic moves), and installed his boy Robert Thomson.
One of the most-visible pieces of that effort has been to decrease the amount of jumps readers have to make on section-front stories.
So it is today with what could have been an interesting story on corporations and unions. Instead we get a straight news story that doesn’t add any real value for the reader. It’s well-written commodity news and pretty much dispenses with the famous Journal nutgraf. Here’s what we get for that, after a straight-news lede:
FedEx’s actions raise the stakes in an increasingly bitter battle involving chief rival, United Parcel Service Inc., and the Teamsters union, which has been trying for years to organize FedEx. Ken Hall, international vice president and director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters package division, accused FedEx of “blackmailing Congress” and “threatening to fire yet another torpedo through an already weak American economy.”
But it’s pretty clear to me, just as a close reader of the biz press, that there’s a broader story here: That this move is part of corporate America rolling out the heavy artillery for its fight to the death, its “Armageddon” with labor under the new administration.
But the new Journal isn’t going to give us any of that. It’s gotten narrow, newsier, more small-minded than the ambitious pre-Murdoch paper. As The Audit’s Dean Starkman (like me, a WSJ alum) wrote last week, this is not a blip, it’s where Thomson and Murdoch want to take the place. The memo last week urging Journal reporters to be more like their Dow Jones Newswires (!!) counterparts is the latest dispiriting evidence of that.
I can tell you the Journal newsroom, to put it nicely, doesn’t think too highly of “the Ticker,” as it’s called internally, which Journal reporters think of as rote journalism. That sentiment goes both ways: Though all Ticker reporters want to get across the Hudson river to the Journal, they think—with some justification—that WSJ reporters are holier-than-thou. Here’s how Richard Perez-Penadescribed this succinctly in the Times last week:
That points in the same direction as changes made in The Journal since the News Corporation bought it 15 months ago, changes not always welcomed in a newsroom that tends to see the Newswires as a less exalted operation. Mr. Thomson and the News Corporation chairman, Rupert Murdoch, have mandated articles in the paper with shorter, more straightforward openings, pushing down the analytical and predictive elements that were prized in the old regime.
Exactly. The Journal prides (prided) itself on putting stories into context for their readers, making connections they might not have made themselves.
So for instance, on this FedEx story, the old Journal would have probably mentioned analysts downgrading Wal-Mart shares because of the prospect of unionization. It would have given some context on why the move to put FedEx under the other labor law is happening, which I assume is because of the labor-friendly policies of the new administration’s and the expanded Democratic majority in Congress. It would have pointed toward the epic battle shaping up in Congress between Big Business and (Not So) Big Labor over card-check legislation.
We get none of that here (and I want to be clear this is not the reporters’ fault, and probably not even their editors’ fault—that blame goes to the brass).
But that stuff is what differentiated the Journal from other papers. I don’t see what separates this story from the one in FedEx’s hometown Commercial Appeal—and I can get the latter for free.
Jumps are a pain in the neck for readers and they generally don’t like them. The best part about them, though, is that jumps are just a tool to let part of your readers get more information if they want it. The general reader can almost always tell by the time he’s read seven or eight column inches whether he wants to read another twelve. Many, okay most, don’t jump to read the conclusion of “Fusty Insurance Lures Buyers Seeking Safety,” say, but those who need that information will.
I don’t like the way the FT prohibits jumps. But its front-page stories often point to related stories inside that expand on the subject’s different angles. There’s nothing more from the Journal here.
Look, the Journal has never been a “first-read” paper. That’s what Murdoch wants it to be: See the generic Washington coverage that dominated the front page during the presidential primaries, when resources would have been better used writing about, you know, Wall Street.