The Wall Street Journal Girds Itself for Murdoch

otr rupertmurdoch2h The Wall Street Journal Girds Itself for MurdochIt’s still nearly two months until News Corp. officially closes on Dow Jones, The Wall Street Journal’s parent. But there’s growing evidence that at The Journal, the Rupert Murdoch era has already begun.

On September 17, the paper announced that it would launch Pursuits, a glossy magazine supplement covering the exploits of the superrich. The press release sent out by The Journal quoted publisher Gordon Crovitz and managing editor Marcus Brauchli—but according to one staffer, the prototype for the new venture had already passed through the hands of Mr. Murdoch, who gave it the green light.

To be sure, Pursuits was conceived long before Mr. Murdoch began his flirtation with the Bancroft family, which currently controls Dow Jones. And he likely did little more than sign off last week—the heavy lifting was overseen by Robert Frank, the magazine’s anticipated editor, and Journal deputy managing editor Mike Miller, before Mr. Murdoch even arrived. But one staffer suggests that Mr. Murdoch’s enthusiasm for magazine supplements (Page Six Magazine!), combined with his stamp of approval on this one may have pushed the business side into action.

Pursuits certainly fits in well with Mr. Murdoch’s plans. The magazine, say staffers, appears designed to compete with How to Spend It, the Financial Times’ monthly glossy. Mr. Murdoch appears eager to provoke a broader showdown between the two papers: It was recently reported that News Corp. president Peter Chernin, believed to be speaking with the approval of his boss, said his company “will crush” the FT.

Magazines aside, Mr. Murdoch has also begun to engage with the editorial side of the daily paper. It was widely noted when, on Sept. 12, he took a stroll through the Journal newsroom and held a three-hour meeting with editors. But that same afternoon, according to staffers, he also paid a visit to the Money & Investing department, where, with editors Nik Deogun and Ken Brown, Mr. Murdoch discussed a piece for the following day that reported on oil prices approaching $80 a barrel. And this past Friday, another staffer observed the 76-year old News Corp. chief touring the WSJ.com offices and television studio with Mr. Brauchli and executive online editor Alan Murray.

Meanwhile, say staffers, Mr. Murdoch has begun setting up an office for himself, near other senior Dow Jones executives on the 11th floor.

But it’s in The Journal’s Washington operation where Mr. Murdoch’s presence, perhaps indirectly, appears to be having its most significant effect. Last May, he told The Times that he intended to increase political coverage and “might put more emphasis on Washington.” Mr. Brauchli—still only four months into his tenure—appears to have beaten him to the punch, on Sept. 19 naming John Bussey, known as a talented, aggressive editor, as the new bureau chief. In addition, Boston bureau chief Gary Putka, who’d been rumored to be a candidate for the Washington bureau chief job, and is also known as a tenacious competitor, will soon be overseeing some coverage of homeland security and national affairs remotely, but in coordination with Boston and D.C. bureau reporters, according to a staffer. “Marcus might want to make big changes sooner rather than later,” said one D.C. bureau staffer, since it’s clear that moves will have to be made anyway. By doing so, he “puts his own stamp on it.”

“I think this is all a sign of coming expansion in Washington,” said Gerald Seib, who’s leaving the bureau chief job for two new roles, assistant managing editor and executive Washington editor. Mr. Seib said that the bureau plans to increase Web coverage, and expects political reporters to eventually appear on the Fox Business Network.

Several staffers told The Observer that while they expected some shake-up in the bureau, the selection of Mr. Bussey, who’ll take up his new post on Nov. 1, caught them off guard. For one thing, Mr. Bussey has spent much of his Journal career reporting and editing on international issues—the recent Daniel Pearl biopic, A Mighty Heart, shows him in his role as foreign editor. Then there’s a widely circulated memo from June, in which Mr. Brauchli wrote that Mr. Bussey would leave his editor position in Asia to “take on a significant new writing assignment”—which never happened. And lastly, multiple staffers said the two men simply do not get along; perhaps, one staffer speculated, it dates back to the time that Mr. Bussey oversaw Mr. Brauchli as a foreign correspondent. (Both Mr. Brauchli and Mr. Bussey declined to comment.)

Mr. Murdoch’s looming presence may also be having an effect in another sphere. Several times over the past few months, he’s expressed his preference for shorter, newsier front-page stories. Sure enough, a 400-word piece on M.I.T’s miscalculation of S.A.T scores in the September 22-23 Weekend Journal didn’t jump past page one. That sure looks like a new direction, though a Journal spokesman said the format is used “once in a great while.”