Wall St. Journal Is Hometown Paper of South Brunswick

Until recently, it would have been hard to imagine The Wall Street Journal as a wartime newspaper. But since Sept. 11, that’s exactly what the paper has become. Over the past seven weeks, the staff of the 112-year-old Journal -which evacuated its World Financial Center headquarters during the World Trade Center attack-has functioned as a kind of guerrilla army, scattered across the city as well as in … South Brunswick, New Jersey.

Editorially, The Journal has soldiered on since Sept. 11., scoring news breaks on Larry Silverstein’s decision to rebuild and Mohamed Atta’s Miami runway joyride, among others, and aggressively chronicling terrorism’s economic impact. But inside the Journal newsroom, questions abound concerning the future, as the recovery effort becomes a rebuilding one and some of the news operation remakes itself across the Hudson.

It’s no secret that The Journal is a battered shop. The paper was more closely impacted than any other news organization on Sept. 11. A sizable portion of the staff were unexpected eyewitnesses to the attack-there was a brief moment where some worried that managing editor Paul Steiger might be buried in the rubble-and the

paper’s downtown headquarters remains uninhabitable. Those offices will eventually reopen, but the psychological impact is immeasurable.

Still, many Journal staffers feel that despite the turmoil, the paper has weathered the worst, and that the difficult circumstances since that fateful Tuesday have brought out the paper’s true spirit. “There’s a lot of pride,” said the Journal ‘s editorial-page editor, Paul Gigot. “There’s a renewed sense of mission here, to deliver our readers our message: free people, free markets and free expression.”

But, The Journal continues to face the hearty challenge of publishing despite having top editors reshuffled to South Brunswick, N.J., and a staff of displaced reporters in Manhattan. After a brief sojourn in Jersey, Mr. Gigot is now working out of the former Seventh Avenue offices of Work.com, a failed dot-com that was owned by Dow Jones, The Journal ‘s parent. But Mr. Steiger and his four deputy managing editors-along with graphics and copy-desk people-are still trying to put the paper together from the heart of the heart of the country.

“Some of us have moved down here,” said WSJ foreign editor John Bussey, who stays in a nearby hotel four days a week. “It just makes sense, rather than commuting.”

The WSJ ‘s New Jersey campus feels very far from its real home in Manhattan. It actually looks like one of those faceless colleges they advertise on television; alongside box-like limestone buildings, geese waddle in and out of a lake with a fountain. Inside the doors, “Customer Satisfaction Priority 1” banners hang in spots. The color teal is everywhere.

Here, on the inside, The Journal begins to feel like an emergency bunker, albeit a pretty nice one. Six weeks ago, there was nothing in those rooms. But now there’s a mild hubbub emanating from the paper’s national, foreign, marketplace and investing editors’ desks, as well as computers that Dow Jones bought from local stores when the airlines shut down and mail order was impossible.

This commingling represents a change from The Journal ‘s old setup downtown, where these news desks were segregated. “In a way, the newsroom setting has fostered communication between the different desks because they’re all together,” said The Journal ‘s deputy managing editor, Stephen Adler, as he sat with his legs folded in his cube. “Because of the way our old office was set up, you didn’t get that.”

It’s all make-do and patchwork, of course-no one suggests that this is how things will look a couple months from now. Many editors end up spending four days here in New Jersey. Story meetings, held at 11 a.m. and at 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and at 11 a.m. on Fridays, now consist of the South Brunswick folk phone-conferencing with section editors in New York as well as the other bureaus. Mr. Steiger, who attended last Friday’s meeting via phone while sitting in the back of a car, said the only problem with the arrangement is “when the phone cuts out. It can be a little embarrassing.”

Meanwhile, weekends-once a dead time for a paper with no Saturday or Sunday edition-have suddenly found new meaning. A 45-minute Sunday editor’s meeting, held via conference call, has been added. The front page, whose three major stories were usually finished by Friday, now are more often worked on through Sunday night.

“There’s definitely an urgency on Sundays now,” Mr. Adler said. “You’re seeing a lot more reporting done on the weekend.”

When asked if anything could have been done differently since Sept. 11, Mr. Bussey said he liked the way the phone-conferencing had gone, but noted: “I would have rented some space uptown for the office. You have your entire editing structure an hour and a half away.”

Clearly the geographic resettling is an inconvenience for some. Mr. Steiger put it this way: “Before all this happened, if I left work at 7:30 or 8:00, I’d be home in 20 minutes. Now, I’m home in two hours. That is a pain, and if I had my druthers, I’d rather not do it. But it’s not as if people in ordinary life don’t have commutes like this.”

All of this is kind of a dry run. Many of Mr. Steiger’s staff will eventually have to deal with this shift on a permanent basis. On Oct. 16, Dow Jones chief executive Peter Kann announced that 250 people-including the copy desk and the overseas copy desk for the international editions-would stay in South Brunswick. In exchange, employees would get a bonus of 50 percent of their base salary, with a minimum of $25,000 and $50 per week for a year for commuting expenses. The move sparked anger and resentment amongst the WSJ staff, and sources say petitions to keep it from happening are being signed by everyone. “They don’t want to go,” one Journal source said. “And you can understand that. Some of them will just have to quit. There’s certainly a lot of bad feeling about it.”

Mr. Steiger himself said that such moves had been discussed prior to Sept. 11 on a “very high level.” Once the tragedy took hold, he said, he began thinking about those whom it didn’t make sense to return to New York. He said he endorsed the steps even though “I knew it would be challenging, even painful to the people affected.

“It’s a practicality issue,” Mr. Steiger said. “In a perfect world, where economics is not a factor, you’d have everyone at the same location. But you save millions and millions of dollars having people in South Brunswick, where the office costs are essentially zero. That’s the equivalent of hundreds of reporters’ jobs each year.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Steiger doesn’t see New Jersey as an isolation booth; he sees an emergency-proof, two-pronged newsroom.

“After Sept. 11, I understood the importance of having two different platforms running on separate power grids,” Mr. Steiger said, “so that it’s possible to produce a paper at either location. That doesn’t mean you can just have a bunch of computers sitting around in a room. You need people who actively work with them, who really know the drill.”

Still uncertain is when the paper can return to its World Financial Center home. In a memo on Oct. 18, Mr. Kann said that the company had found five of 24 dust samples taken to contain asbestos levels above E.P.A.-acceptable levels. Then, on Monday, Nov. 5 , Mr. Kann said that results from a second round of tests came back with all samples being clear, but that the company would do more tests beneath things like wood panels and the carpet. He wrote that the company expected to be back at the W.F.C. by the end of the year.

In the meanwhile, reporters have been meeting amongst themselves to talk about air quality.

“People are worried,” said one WSJ source. “I think people have legitimate concerns about their health.”

Said another WSJ source: “Do I want to go back? No, not really. But we have to suck it up, deal with it. The copy people want to go back. But given the choice of the World Financial Center or South Brunswick, I’d choose World Financial.”

Both Mr. Steiger and Dow Jones vice president Steven Goldstein say The Journal , Dow Jones corporate and Barron’s won’t return to the W.F.C. until it’s safe.

“The thing I keep telling people,” Mr. Goldstein said, “is that we have to work there, too.”

And heightening concerns about The Journal ‘s workplace safety is the condition of deputy national editor Rich Regis, who’s currently hospitalized with vasculitis. Doctors told Mr. Steiger that Mr. Regis’ illness might have been the result of something inhaled when he was caught up in the massive debris storm of Sept. 11, or may be completely unrelated.

“From my understanding,” Mr. Steiger said, “it’s a massive allergic reaction. He and I were standing right next to each other and were covered in the same debris. Rich is a person everyone loves and is concerned about. It seems that his case seems to be extremely unusual.” Mr. Steiger said that Mr. Regis remains in stable condition. “He’s better, but not out of the woods.”

Amid these heightened circumstances, there is a paper to write and edit. Currently the WSJ has 130 people working the international part of the story. The Mexico City and Rio bureau chiefs have split time in Pakistan, while the paper’s man in Rome has made his way through Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Different editors have been assigned to handle the paper’s coverage of the aftermath, overseeing such new beats as “the money trail” and “health and anthrax.”

“It’s been especially challenging,” Mr. Adler said, “because we don’t ordinarily do street reporting. We don’t hover around the ground zeros of the world. But in reporting the aftermath, we’re at a particular advantage here. The fallout came into the specific industries-airlines, for one-we cover, so we’ve had a base to build on.”

But in the face of it all, Mr. Bussey feels the paper has persevered rather well. “We’ve devoted our front page almost exclusively to this topic. It’s happened before-in the Gulf War, the Asian financial crisis,” he said. “But has it changed The Wall Street Journal ? Has it changed the mission of the story? How we report and edit the story? No. You’re just seeing The Journal ‘s approach to the story.”

There’s more belt-tightening at Talk . Tina Brown recently thinned her masthead by not renewing the contracts of three editors and one writer. The editors let go include senior editors Jennifer Krauss and Lee Smith and editor-at-large Monica Crowley. Ms. Krauss and Mr. Smith handled much of the arts-and-letters coverage at the magazine. Ms. Crowley joined Talk at the beginning of the year, after writing two books on Richard Nixon (just out of college, Ms. Crowley went to work for the former President just before he died in 1994). Also cut loose is former Business Week writer Leah Nathans Spiro, whose biggest scoop at the magazine came earlier this year, when she tagged Bill Clinton with playing golf at a country club accused of racism and anti-Semitism.

The spokeswoman for Talk said the staff cuts were all made to save money: “There was an economic reason behind this.”

Editorial director Maer Roshan said he hoped to continue working with all four as writers for the magazine. “I have nothing but the highest regard for all of these people. Like everyone else, we have to engage in certain belt-tightening.”

In addition, on the business side, the magazine has lost creative-services director Sona Hacherian Hofstede. She was replaced by Kevin Belden, whose last job was associate publisher for marketing at Time Inc.’s InStyle . He’ll have the same title at Talk .

All is not completely gloomy at Talk , the spokeswoman said. The November issue with Rudy Giuliani on the cover is selling well enough to rival the debut Hillary Clinton cover-back when Ms. Brown’s fights with Mr. Giuliani made for front-page news-as the magazine’s best-seller. And, so far this year, the magazine claims, ad pages are up 6.3 percent and ad revenue is up 26.3 percent. “Ad pages are up and revenue is up,” the spokeswoman said, “but we’re still in a difficult economic climate.”

-Gabriel Snyder Wall St. Journal Is Hometown Paper of South Brunswick