“Obviously, our ambition is that people will come in through New York and they’ll take a look at us, they’ll sample us and then they’ll discover how much we’ve broadened the national and international coverage,” he said.
They won’t, in other words, see that old, stodgy Journal their father stowed away in his briefcase. “They may be surprised—because there are preconceptions about The Journal—at how satisfying that experience is, how interesting the writing, how creative and clever it is,” he said. “People know what the reputation is, and reputation and prestige are wonderful things to have, but a reputation also embodies preconceptions about who you are, and we’ve already changed the paper in a way that if you read The Journal, your preconception would be challenged.”
Starting in 12 days, The Journal will include a pull-out local report in all of its New York editions. There will be “12-ish” pages every day, and will run six days a week. The paper has already expanded its coverage of international events and politics. Now it will move the paper straight into The Times’ turf, covering local politics, news, sports, culture, gossip and real estate.
You won’t read it online without paying, because almost the whole New York section will be behind a paywall. “Nothing,” he said, when asked what would be free to readers online. “Virtually nothing.”
In Mr. Thomson’s estimation, there is no such thing as a “second read” anymore. You’ll eventually buy one paper only. It has to be The Journal. “The New York Times is a difficult paper to read,” Mr. Thomson said. “Navigation is not easy. So clearly, we have a much easier paper to read and to understand. We don’t have as many stories jumping from place to place. It’s an opportunity for people who have been frustrated by the very act of reading to read again. We have an accessibility that will make sense to people.”
When we asked Mr. Thomson to describe his reader, he said, “If you sit on the subway and look around the carriage, there are many various types who are potential New York readers of The Wall Street Journal.”
There are students. There are professional types. There are people in media. There are people in advertising. There are educators.
These are the people who will shift the balance of power. These are the people who will buy a printed Wall Street Journal or a subscription online. These are the people that will make sure Rupert Murdoch’s $15 million is well spent.
By The Journal’s own projections, the prospects of turning a profit on the New York report in the next couple of years are remote. Despite the fact that people aren’t buying newspapers the way they used to, Mr. Thomson and Mr. Murdoch want you to buy their printed paper. It is a crazy-like-a-fox strategy, or it’s just plain crazy. Either way, it’s undeniably Murdoch, joyfully defying the odds.
The only audience Messrs. Murdoch and Thomson crave are the people who read the paper. “We will be judged rightly and harshly by readers,” said Mr. Thomson. “That’s the only judgment that counts. And we’re about to give them a choice.”
Plans for the New York section go back to at least last summer, when The Journal drafted a plan, at Mr. Murdoch’s insistence, to create a weekly culture section for New York.
That effort quickly grew. Dow Jones executives listened as Kelly Leach, then the vice president of business management at the paper, presented two plans, according to a source familiar with the discussion. The Journal could expand its Saturday paper, invest heavily in it and make a solid profit. Or the paper could build out a five-day-a-week New York section, which all projections indicated would lose money.
At that point, Les Hinton, a Murdoch confidante for decades and the publisher of The Journal, leaned back and asked, unfazed, ‘How much would it cost to run it six days a week?” according to the source.
It wasn’t long after that meeting that the wheels were set in motion. Once again, Mr. Murdoch would spare no cost. According to Sarah Ellison’s book War at The Wall Street Journal, this is the man who lost $80 million on The Journal last year and spent $60 million moving the paper from its longtime home downtown to the News Corp. building on Sixth Avenue. The New York Post has reportedly lost tens of millions of dollars a year. A Dow Jones spokeswoman said that The Journal, in the fiscal year 2010, would be profitable, as would the Journal franchise.
Mr. Thomson said that the plan that was temporarily shelved, the Weekend section relaunch, will start this fall. “It will be quite grand and rather profitable,” he said.
Though the war will begin over New York stories in a few days, the skirmishes with The Times began long ago.
Mr. Thomson has gone on the record to attack time and again, complaining about The Times’ pretentiousness or about how the whole institution could go under because Arthur Sulzberger is in charge. Last year, he accused Mr. Keller of tampering with an awards process. He’s accused media reporter David Carr of being biased.