When Mr. Murdoch takes over a newspaper, he doesn’t take much time to get things done. It can look slow at first—the preparations for war are often quiet, faraway strategic affairs involving a rather small magic circle, after all. But when it starts, it’s Shock and Awe.
“My view of that situation is, and I’m hard-pressed to think how anyone could think of it differently, is Rupert Murdoch is the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal,” said Michael Wolff, the Vanity Fair columnist who is currently writing a book on The Journal’s transition to News Corp., and who has been regularly interviewing Mr. Murdoch these days. “In that position, he speaks to Robert Thomson, and then Robert Thomson speaks to Marcus Brauchli.”
They Want Scoops
With his control of the newspaper asserted, all of the roll-outs predicted in that Newsweek article are being seen for what they are: not the preliminary tweaks occasioned by a pair of fresh eyes on the newspaper, but the first stirrings of The Journal in its effort to wrest The Times from its perch as the Newspaper of Record for America’s—possibly the world’s—power elite.
The day that Mr. Brauchli resigned, The Wall Street Journal introduced a new culture report, Currents. It’ll run two days a week in the paper’s A section. The day before, a revamped Marketplace section debuted. What was once the front page for media and marketing news became more like the front of a general-interest broadsheet’s business section. Some stories appeared on the front page without jumping into the section—a trick from The Financial Times’ editorial playbook.
“Marcus said that Murdoch admires a lot of things that are reminiscent of the way Financial Times runs the paper—short, no jump stories,” said a reporter from the Los Angeles bureau.
The old idea of The Journal was of a straight business newspaper wrapped in a magazine. That magazine could carry offbeat A-heds and stories from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists that were the culmination of months of full-time reporting. It was the ultimate in acting luxurious with talent: to put months of hard labor and editing onto a newspaper page that would last a day on the stands before hitting the recycling bin. And to see it online takes a subscription.
In Washington last week, while on a conference call with reporters, the current Page One editor Mike Williams spent much of the time talking to reporters about headline sizes.
“He talked about changed the size of the headline type,” said one Washington reporter. “There wasn’t a conversation about the quality of our stories. It came across like they’re scrambling in New York in trying to figure out what Murdoch wants. They want scoops.”
And of the sort of stories they’ll cover?
“They were talking about the mix of stories ,and they are experimenting with trying to make it an essential read. Are we going to start covering a polygamist camp in Texas? Probably.”
“It’s like a real newspaper now, which we never thought of ourselves, especially on the front page,” said Glynn Mapes, a retired Journal staffer, who was Page One editor for more than 10 years.
But are they more like The New York Times?
Back in January, at a bureau chiefs’ conference, editors in the room noticed Mr. Murdoch and Robert Thomson, the publisher of the paper, circling news stories on a few different newspapers. They were doing it quietly, but some speculation spread: What in the world are they doing—and is this what we’re going to be doing from now on?
“I used to teach my journalism classes that the great thing about The Journal was that it was a paper that assumed you already knew the news, but then gave you some sort of angle on it,” said the journalist, editor and entrepreneur Steven Brill in a phone interview. “Look at the way The Journal covered 9/11: On Wednesday the 12th, The Times was telling you the news of 9/11, which everyone already knew, but The Journal was giving you the financial and business take on those news. Now it’s more straightforward.”
And some early indications are that Mr. Murdoch has already made an impact with the scene-leaders he’ll need to capture if he wants to reverse that conventional wisdom about The Times and The Journal as the yin-yang news sources of America’s power elite.
“It’s being presented less as a paper for businesspeople and more as a paper for people who like to read newspapers,” said Nicholas Lemann, dean at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.