Mr. Lemann said he still picks up The Times first. “I read The Times backwards, so I flip it over and read every page back to front because I suppose I don’t want to get distracted by the impulse to look only at things deemed important enough to appear on section fronts. But The Journal I read in the opposite direction—I don’t read every page, and mostly look at section fronts for what I want to read.”
But other New Yorkers have already noticed a change in how they consume the dailies.
“I always used to read The Times first and The Journal second; now I find they are side by side at the breakfast table and I might even start with The Journal,” said Simon & Schuster editor in
chief and former Time deputy managing editor Priscilla Painton, who cited two reasons for the shift.
“One is that The Journal has been masterful at decoding things that are currently in the news, like the subprime mortgage crisis and the hedge-fund troubles. The second is that The Journal’s political reporting has become more pointed and aggressive.” Ms. Painton told The Observer. “They seem a half-beat ahead in a way that they weren’t six months ago. Political news that I would normally find on A4 or A6, they now put it on the front page, which makes me think, ‘Gee, I guess I really have to read that.’”
The question is: What will readers get when they arrive there?
“It’s impossible not to notice when a paper as big as The Wall Street Journal publicly sets its sights on you,” said Dick Stevenson, the political editor of The New York Times. “It would be ridiculous to say we don’t notice or care. My view might be different from my colleagues, but I think it’s great for The New York Times to have more competition and for the news business in general to have much more competition, and at the risk of being philosophical, I think good for the country to have more competition.”
“If the assumption is that they are trying to move much closer to or try to match the approach we take to politics or any other general-interest news, I think they have moved a substantial way from their old approach, which seemed to me to pick their targets very carefully and not feel compelled to weigh in every day,” he said.
The presence of The Wall Street Journal is today hardly discernible in the mix of broadsheet newspapers who flood the campaign buses and crowd the hustings of the campaign trail in 2008.
As Mr. Murdoch knows from another theater of war—the battle between his New York Post and its crosstown rival, the Daily News—the real modern war is a street fight. Get up to the murder victim’s apartment first. Get the interview with David Axelrod while he’s being accosted by a man dressed as a giant corn cob in Des Moines.
Since Mr. Murdoch purchased the paper, some Journal staffers have been surprised that Mr. Murdoch hasn’t been more aggressive in changing the structure of the organization—who goes where, who does what, the actual assignments.
They grabbed Sue Schmidt, a star investigative reporter for The Washington Post. But efforts to recruit investigative reporter Don Van Natta from The New York Times failed; according to several sources, The Journal has also struck out with Times reporters David Leonhardt, David Kirkpatrick, Obama-campaign reporter Jeff Zeleny and culture reporter Dan Wakin.
It all seems to be part of a strategy where you make the paper first, and organize the talent to fill the spaces. Like Napoleon drawing up his battle plan for Jena, it’s all sketches until the bodies start falling. Was Mr. Brauchli’s the first?
Tabloid War 2.0?
The same day Mr. Brauchli’s exit was reported on Time’s Web site, there was another report—this time in The Wall Street Journal, about another bit of business concerning the newspaper’s owner.
Merissa Marr reported that News Corp would pay “about $580 million” to Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. to buy Newsday, the Long Island tabloid-format newspaper. Citing unnamed “individuals familiar with the situation,” she reported that the paper would still be partially owned (“less than 5 percent”) by the newly private Tribune Co.
By combining Newsday’s operations with News Corp’s New York Post, Mr. Murdoch’s money-losing tabloid would benefit: As it is, the Post, which cut its print size by an inch and a half starting this week, has widely been reported as a $50 million-a-year money loser. Inevitably, concerns have been raised by some who feel owning three daily newspapers should raise a whiff among antitrust regulators.
Everyone is relating the possible purchase of Newsday (for whom Mr. Murdoch has competition in 27-year-old real estate and media entrepreneur Jared Kushner, owner and publisher of The Observer) to that older Murdochian war, with the Daily News.