Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal drafted plans for a New York–only culture section. It didn’t take long for that project to be shelved, and Rupert Murdoch’s Journal decided to take on the city itself—with a New York–only news section that will cover everything you’d expect from a local newspaper: politics, news, sports and, yes, culture.
“They want to do everything,” said one source familiar with the project.
Inside sources have told Off the Record that The Journal has hired John Seeley, the former deputy managing editor of The New York Sun, to lead the project. He is in charge of hiring outside staffers, and getting the section on its feet. The Times reported that a dozen outside reporters could be hired for the project, and sources told us that Journal staffers could be reassigned to the new desk as well. If all goes according to plan, the new section will debut next year.
Mr. Murdoch was an admirer of The Sun, which folded in September 2008.
In fact, immediately after he took control of The Journal in December 2007, Fox’s Neil Cavuto asked Mr. Murdoch if he planned on poaching reporters from The Times for his new acquisition. He said sure, maybe, but added, “The New York Sun is a very obvious place where are there some very fine journalists.”
A New York news section that reports on local politics and sports is perhaps the clearest statement that Mr. Murdoch is more than a little flexible in moving the paper away from its bread-and-butter business news.
It’s also a clear sign that Mr. Murdoch is happy to bring his fight with The Times right to its backyard. He has criticized The Times’ culture coverage in private meetings with staffers, and it wouldn’t be hard to believe he feels the same way about The Times’ metro desk. Though The Journal’s staff would be far smaller—more than 100 people work on The Times’ metro desk, including more than 60 reporters—a compact staff didn’t prevent The Sun from becoming an important read in the city, thanks to its heavy reliance on (sound familiar, New York Post reporters?) scoops.
“I’ll say the thing I’ve said about each previous Major Initiative announced by Mr. Murdoch—the glossy weekly magazine, the robust culture section, the daily sports section. We welcome competition,” said Bill Keller, the Times’ executive editor, in an e-mail. “We think it’s good for readers. We don’t shy away from it. But press releases aren’t competition.”
The Journal, however, has stopped short of issuing a press release on this one. The project has been kept well under wraps, and only a small handful of people are involved in the planning stages.
“They’re being really secretive about this,” said the source.
Former Sun staffers say that Mr. Seeley, who was the longtime night editor at the paper, could ground the big ideas that came from the paper’s lead editors, Seth Lipsky and Ira Stoll. He was well liked, and a solid editor. Though he wasn’t in charge of hiring reporters, he did hire editors.
“He ran the newsroom from 3 p.m. on, whereas Ira came in first thing and got the ball rolling with counterintuitive and provocative ideas in the morning,” said David Lombino, the former city editor at The Sun who is now working for the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “John would take it over after lunch.”
“He was the one person who was totally irreplaceable,” continued Mr. Lombino. “At the 3:30 p.m. meeting, he would be in there deciding what the front page would look like. He was the point man of putting it all together and he read every story in the paper every night.”
Mr. Seeley did not respond to an email or voice mail.