The world was ready for cries of “What fresh hell is this!” from The Wall Street Journal when news broke this week that Rupert Murdoch was planning to move his newest acquisition into his 45-story tower at Sixth Avenue and 48th street, the Death Star of the News Corp. enterprise.
“Are you kidding?” rasped Journal editorial-board member and Pulitzer-winner Dorothy Rabinowitz when we called to collect the requisite fond farewells to the neighborhood that has been home to The Journal for more than a century. “I don’t care if we’re in a spaceship headed for another planet. It’s a big pain to not have lunch because it’s too far uptown.”
In fact, there seems to be little sentiment to spare at The Journal for its namesake neighborhood, where in 1882 Charles Henry Dow, Edward Davis Jones and Charles Milford Bergstresser first began sending messengers out to local businesses with copies of the handwritten daily bulletin (called “flimsies”) that were produced in their basement offices at 15 Wall Street.
“In all honesty, it’s kind of nasty down here,” said another veteran reporter.
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Since 1985, of course, The Journal has been on Liberty Street, not Wall Street. But it remained within spitting distance of what is still the financial capital of the country, even after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 destroyed the World Trade Center right next door.
In fact, the attacks of 2001 were one reason The Journal remained in the neighborhood long after most reporters believed there was any geographical advantage in it.
“We’re not going to let the bastards chase us out of here,” then-managing editor Paul Steiger famously told the newsroom, which would earn a Pulitzer for breaking news coverage of the momentous event.
“We didn’t want an act of terrorism to drive us from where we were,” Mr. Steiger told The Observer this week. (He left the paper in December, around the time Mr. Murdoch took over, and is running an online investigative journalism nonprofit, Pro Publica). “But this is now six years—and more—after that, and there’s plenty of good reason to have everyone altogether in midtown.”
“To be honest, physically it just doesn’t matter,” he continued. “Yes, it’s The Wall Street Journal and Wall Street is downtown. But Wall Street is a state of mind.”
In fact, it turns out, the reporters like it better as a state of mind than as an actual place.
“It’s so enormously grim,” said another. “You have to walk past a work site every day and so many subway stations are closed. I don’t want to spend half my day traveling to see sources in midtown.”
Reporters and editors interviewed about an uptown move talked about easier commutes and more interesting places to eat lunch—no more P.J. Clarke’s!
But then, you can’t move out of one place without moving into another.
“Now we’re going to be a few floors away from Rupert and that’ll be different—he can just walk down to the newsroom if he wants and decree whatever,” said one reporter. “Whereas down here, yes, the acquisition went through, but you don’t really feel a presence. We’re still a little island down here. When we get up there, it’ll really set in that he owns us.”
“I’ve never been there, but I’m imagining big pictures of Bill O’Reilly in the lobby,” said another.
In fact, the whole feel of the World Financial Center complex that houses The Journal’s three-story newsroom today is different from Mr. Murdoch’s midtown building. At present reporters walk along sleek hallways and passages; in places your heel-click echoes. You’re more likely to bump into a potted palm there than Greg Gutfeld at 1211.
And the newsroom itself?
“It’s much more like a library here than a traditional newsroom,” said one reporter. “People come here and are often surprised by how quiet it is because everyone is doing his or her own thing behind their cubicle.”
The basement of 1211 is a place where you play frogger to get past the orange-skinned pundits and nicotine-addled gumshoes of Mr. Murdoch’s empire. And the 10th floor, home of The New York Post? “It’s a disaster,” said one veteran Post reporter. On a quick survey of the newsroom, this reporter saw piled-up telephone books, rows of U.S. postal bins “full of shit,” notebooks, broken computers, extension cords. “Whenever a printer breaks here, we don’t get rid of it, we just put the new one next to it.”
“Paula [Froelich] from Page Six gets really loud! And people from 10 feet away will yell at her to shut up. No one uses their phone, everyone just screams over the hedge. You have people from two or three rows away joining into each other’s conversations. There are people who literally wear ear plugs, or big four-inch round headphones, to drown out the noise, especially on deadline. It’s so loud.”
The source said that about four years ago, Rupert Murdoch, after a visit to the newsroom, found it too unruly even for him; that was the last time there was a big cleanup.
It might be time for the Journal kids to start making some noise.
“Right now people are thinking about their commutes,” one Journal reporter said. “But they’ve got a gym in the new building, right? So there are things people will like about it, but do you really want to be on a treadmill next to [Fox Business Network anchor] Cody [Willard]? That’s the real culture clash.”