the audit

Two Can Play That Game, Rupert

The Times has the smarter strategy in the head-to-head with The Wall Street Journal
August 30, 2010

Rupert Murdoch has de-emphasized business coverage in The Wall Street Journal since buying the paper in 2007, something that The Audit, focused as we are on the business press, has criticized quite a bit. The tell on Murdoch’s intentions came pretty early when he considered dropping “Wall Street” from the paper’s name, for crying out loud.

He’s expanded general news coverage, often at the expense of the paper’s core business reporting, in a bid to hurt the hated and weakened New York Times and to position the Journal as a competing national paper of record.

Murdoch’s biggest shot at the Times came with the launch of the WSJ‘s own New York section, which was aimed squarely at attracting lucrative New York readers while depriving the Times of the same.

I’ve written before that it’s an unhealthy obsession (though it’s always worth remembering that this is a guy who’s willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on his newspapers):

But it seems unlikely to us that largely liberal New York Times readers are going to peel away in droves to go read a Murdoch newspaper with an edit page slightly to the right of Milton Friedman and news pages that have noticeably moved rightward since he took over…

More importantly, two million people have subscribed to The Wall Street Journal over the years because it was The Wall Street Journal—not because it was the NYT or the Financial Times. As long as additional features don’t take away from the paper’s core emphasis, then they’re fine.

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But many of Murdoch’s moves have been to de-Journalize the Journal, sexing up headlines, cutting story length, diluting depth, adding more stock photos and commodity news, going to straight-news ledes, replacing much of the masthead with non-WSJers, and heading generally to the more slap-dash, once-over-lightly British model.

Now, Audit Boss Dean Starkman reports that the Journal‘s star reporter Susanne Craig is bolting for the Times. It is indeed a blow. When I think of core reporters at the Journal, Craig is right up there. And this move follows WSJ reporter Peter Lattman’s exit for the Times a few weeks ago.

Those two hires are part of a major expansion of DealBook from eight journalists to twenty, which the Journal itself reported in June.

So not only is the Journal losing some of its best talent, but they’re going to a direct competitor looking to encroach directly on its turf—and one that’s making the smarter moves. While the Journal is pouring resources into non-business coverage, sometimes at the expense of its raison d’etre, the Times and DealBook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin sense an opening and are making their own move. Rupert may yet get outfoxed in this chess match.

You can place some of this outside the context of the Times battle, too. Lots of big names have been leaving the paper. As one person notes in an email to us, the DC bureau alone has lost Greg Ip, Greg Hitt, Greg Jaffe, Peter Spiegel, Yochi Dreazen, Susan Davis, and Fawn Johnson in the last year or so.

That’s a lot of great journalists to lose in so short a time—and in one bureau.

Further Reading:

Murdoch’s Unhealthy Obsession: Taking on The New York Times isn’t risk-free for the Journal.

WSJ Now Resembling Small-Town Weekly: Future fountains make a splash at Journal’s new New York section.

In the Crisis, the Journal Falls Short: The newspaper is missing the moment.

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.