The WSJ’s Sony Story Is a Page-One Dud

News that Sony’s board has picked a new CEO gets page-one play in The Wall Street Journal, apparently because Kazuo Hirai gave the paper an exclusive interview.

But the story is weak, almost entirely from Hirai’s and the company’s perspective, and it probably should have been stuck somewhere inside the paper. There’s not even much news value here, much less real insight into the company.

For one, Sony is hardly the important company it once was. Its shares have cratered 88 percent from their peak in 2000 and the company’s market value is just north of $17 billion, a bit more than maternity retailer Mothercare PLC and a bit less than health-care REIT HCP Inc.

Perhaps that’s why the Journal hypes the headline:

New Sony Chief Executive Reveals Fast-Forward Plans

Hirai does nothing like that, alas. He doesn’t reveal anything at all, really. The most interesting thing he says is “Holy shit” in response to a question on how messed up one divison was.

The WSJ’s first four paragraphs tell us that “the leadership change comes at a critical juncture,” that Hirai “promises to forge a new path,” and that he “wants to cut costs and shake up the corporate structure.”

That’s great and all, but those stock phrases could apply to just about any change of leadership. Rare is the new CEO who comes aboard talking about “stay the course.”

There’s some good color here:

At ease in both English and Japanese, Mr. Hirai peppers his conversations with equal doses of “dude” and corporate jargon: It is “important to right-size the business”…

In his first job at CBS/Sony Inc., a now defunct music joint venture between the U.S. network and Sony, he served as a translator for such bands as the Beastie Boys and Journey during their visits to Japan.

And there’s some reporting on what Hirai has done as a Sony executive.

But the Journal doesn’t quote or paraphrase anyone besides Hirai, his deputy, and the CEO he’s replacing, which makes the story awfully one-dimensional. It feels like we’re missing something, and we surely are.

At least the Journal talked to somebody, though. The New York Times doesn’t quote anyone beyond Sony’s statement, but it puts its story below the fold on B1 (the Financial Times only paraphrases analysts in its brief story, but mercifully sticks it inside the second section).

It’s true that Sony’s board only voted on Wednesday to pick Hirai as CEO, but Hirai’s selection wasn’t a surprise and it isn’t even really news.

The Japanese press reported it a month ago and it was picked up here. The Financial Times wrote that he was the next CEO last week. The Journal itself wrote last March that it looked like Hirai would be the next CEO.

That was plenty of time for the Journal and the Times to get some quotes from somebody outside Hirai’s inner circle. Bloomberg did it.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,