Murdoch’s Monster: The Journal of the Plague Years

coverpburkemurdochfinal Murdochs Monster: The Journal of the Plague Years“This content hub will be the most powerful generator of news and information anywhere in the world,” said Robert Thomson, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

He was speaking from his offices in the World Financial Center on Liberty Street, for the past 24 years the home of The Journal. But he was talking about 1211 Avenue of Americas, the corporate headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

On Friday, The Journal will move the bulk of its reporting operation to floors four through eight at the building reporters at the newspaper, bought last year by Mr. Murdoch, refer to as the Death Star.

“It was impossible to make [The Journal] work in this space,” Mr. Thomson said.

But now that Mr. Murdoch will have all of Dow Jones within easy reach of his News Corp. nest, he will make The Journal work. Hard.

For the past 19 months, since Mr. Murdoch got his hands on The Journal, he has been slowly, deliberately turning it into his newspaper. The Journal, until so recently the quiet, stentorian creation of Barney Kilgore, reported in a newsroom with the hush of the library about it by gentleman commuters generally more interested in making it home for dinner than making it to Michael’s for lunch, worried over by editors with a literary bee buzzing around in their fedoras, has been his for a year. None of the doomsday scenarios have played out. Yes, he got his new editor. He got his sports section, he got some color onto Page One, some Washington Post-y broadsheet layouts, a lifestyle magazine. But it’s not a tabloid. Nobody is screaming from the front page. Instead The Journal has become, the erudite, broadsheet expression of News Corp. America, the side of Mr. Murdoch’s operation (think of The Australian, The Times of London), that New York has never really seen.

 

Murdoch’s Panopticon

Over the past two weeks, about a quarter of Dow Jones properties have already completed the move.

On Friday, the bulk of The Journal’s newsroom—reporters and editors from economics, the editorial page, health, law, money and investing, media, personal finance, investigative, real estate, Sunday Journal—will be moving in. By the end of the month, Mr. Thomson will join them. 

The Journal’s new space will be in the old Celanese building, where it’ll share quarters with Fox News, the Fox Business Channel, the New York Post.

“We want it to be the most modern and dynamic media space in the world,” wrote Dow Jones CEO Leslie Hinton in a memo to staff announcing the move last year.

“It’s amoeba-like in some ways,” said Mr. Thomson. He was trying to describe the table at the center of the sixth-floor newsroom, where he’ll be sitting along with all of his top lieutenants.

“Well, it’s more organic than that,” he continued. “It’s obviously designed in a way that at the very heart of it you can have a conversation between the news wires, the paper, online and Market Watch. It’s difficult to describe because it’s so unprecedented.”

The floors are airy, with lots of sunlight. Editors will have offices with sliding glass doors and colorful chairs opposite their desks—bright, electric red for some, neon green for others. Reporters will be sitting in a wide-open, bullpen-style area with some reporters sitting two to the same long desk.

“I think it will be easier for Rupert Murdoch to see what the folks are doing and lend his advice because he’ll just have to go up and down a couple floors, not go across town,” said Paul Steiger, former managing editor of The Journal under its previous owners.

Well, obviously! But it’s also a question of how much Mr. Murdoch can see.

“In the new office, we don’t have a lot of personal space,” said one reporter who has been there for less than two years. “It looks more like a trading floor than our current office.”