On May 15 Marcus Brauchli took over as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, capping a career of service to the paper that started when he was a copy editor.
But since the sale of Dow Jones to Rupert Murdoch over the summer, there has been speculation that Mr. Brauchli may have to audition for his job all over again. Mr. Murdoch has maintained that Mr. Brauchli will remain as editor, but there is a growing sense of inevitability at The Journal that Mr. Murdoch will find a way to bring in his fellow Australian, Robert Thomson, the editor of News Corp’s Sunday Times of London, in some capacity.
“No one is sure whether he’ll have a specific job title such as publisher, or whether he’ll be directly focused on The Journal or a Dow Jones division, but Robert will be a player,” said one Journal editor. “He just has too much journalistic experience—financial journalism experience.”
The editor went on to say, “He’ll be involved with Rupert in decisions at The Journal,” regardless of whether he keeps his editorship at the Times, or moves to New York.
If that happens, it would be a reunion for two former rivals. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, both men worked in Tokyo as foreign correspondents, Mr. Brauchli at The Journal, and Mr. Thomson at the Financial Times. Reporters in Tokyo at the time remember them as two aggressive journalists with diametrically opposite personalities.
“Marcus is the nerd, Robert is the cool guy,” said one source who reported with both of them in Tokyo. “Robert wore skinny ties, skinny jeans. He had a very hip sense, a great musical collection and dated really … hot girls. Marcus was more earnest.”
Bill Powell, who was writing for Newsweek in Tokyo in the 1980s, and is now Time’s Shanghai correspondent, had similar recollections. “Marcus is a very hardworking, bright and very capable guy,” he said. “Robert was laconic and very funny—a great sense of humor.”
David Sanger, who was The New York Times’ bureau chief in Tokyo, referred to Mr. Brauchli as “competitive—in the best sense of the word. And he was very hard-driving.” But Mr. Sanger added: “They are different folks.”
What’s not clear is how close they were. Mr. Murdoch told The Wall Street Journal in June: “I don’t know Marcus, but I know he’s a friend of Robert Thomson. And I’ve heard very high recommendations.” But no one OTR spoke to who was with them in Tokyo could remember much about their relationship. A Journal spokesman described the two men as “good friends,” and added that Mr. Brauchli “has immense respect for Robert, both personally and professionally.” Mr. Thomson could not be reached at press time.
In any event, both men left a lasting impression in their own ways—Mr. Brauchli for being a grinding reporter, Mr. Thomson for his free spirit. (There were some other all-stars working in Tokyo at the time for other news outfits, including Susan Chira, now The Times’ foreign editor; Bill Emmott, the former top editor of The Economist; Jim Impoco, a former editor at Portfolio; Damon Darlin, The Times’ technology editor; and Jacob Schlesinger of The Journal, among others).
“I remember we would play touch football,” said Mr. Powell, laughing. “Robert is a gangly guy and he doesn’t come off as someone who would be well-coordinated physically, while some of the other guys there were high-school athletes. Then we played this game that he really wasn’t familiar with and he was really good. He could really catch the ball—he caught everything that came his way. But Marcus? I’m sure he played, but I don’t really remember if Marcus came to play, or if he’d come and hang out and watch.”
Those things may not matter to fellow reporters and editors. But will they matter to Mr. Murdoch?