No Gentlemen Here!
If the Chamberlain photo was not too exaggerated a caricature of Mr. Elefante’s appeasement of Mr. Murdoch the usurper, in another sense it was off-base. Much like Chamberlain trembling before the prospect of a repeat of the world war that had robbed his country of its gentlemanliness, those who hold the tradition of The Journal dear lament the quick pace and flashy presentation they fear Mr. Murdoch would bring to The Journal.
“Murdoch has invested billions in newspapers when few others were willing, but he has also kept them alive through a lowest-common denominator approach typified by the trashy Sun, with its topless Page 3 girls on the breakfast tables of a million Britons,” editor at large Eric Pooley wrote.
“When the Journal gets its Page 3 girls,” Mr. Murdoch told Mr. Pooley, “we’ll make sure they have M.B.A.s.”
Jane Mayer, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and erstwhile Journal reporter, worries that a takeover by the Australian tycoon might jeopardize what she called the Journal’s “fusty, old-fashioned politesse” and its quirky page-one features.
“I had the chance to talk with a member of the News Corp. board fairly early on in this process, and came away with the distinct impression that the things I love most about the Wall Street Journal are the things Murdoch is most anxious to put on the chopping block,” Ms. Mayer explained via e-mail. “In particular, what I’ve valued most are the spectacularly well-reported, and yes, lengthy, front-page stories that go behind the scenes to show the machinations and motives behind the news.”
“From what I gather, these stories seem too long, and too pointless, and too off-the-subject of business to News Corp,” she added.
Tony Horwitz, the author of numerous books including Confederates in the Attic, won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1995 while at The Journal. He too worries about the future of a Murdoch Journal.
“I sort of desperately hoped that some white knight or other factor would intervene to save Dow Jones,” said Mr. Horwitz. “I regard this as a day of lamentation.”
In interviews with The Observer, the Journal diaspora seem particularly worried about the future of the much beloved “A-Hed”—the quirky front-page center column, which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis once describe as “quixotic reportage with a whiff of the literary.” Legendary Journal editor Barney Kilgore invented the A-Hed in 1941. Ever since, the space has served as a storied showcase for literary storytelling.
In the Time piece, Mr. Murdoch expressed his apparent dislike for the form. “He has little taste for the quirky ‘A-Hed’ stories that run in the center columns,” reported Time. “I’m sick of putting The Journal aside because I don’t have time to get through these stories,” Mr. Murdoch told Time.
All of which made former Journal writers worried that the tradition might soon suffer a similar fate to the once cherished “Orphan,”—a similarly offbeat vessel for feature writing that appeared for years on The Journal’s second front page, but eventually went extinct.
“I was one of the many people who wrote often for the A-Hed,” said Mr. Horwitz. “I did a lot of those. I was very despairing when I read the interview that Mr. Murdoch gave about how he didn’t think much of that particular slot and wanted stories shorter.”
“What is troubling to me is that at a time when Murdoch is supposedly wooing us, he is saying time and again that he’s not a fan of our feature writing and our long narratives,” said Joshua Prager, a senior special writer at the Journal. “I think that’s very depressing. I think these stories are as much a part of the DNA of The Wall Street Journal as our business coverage is.”
—Additional reporting by Tom Denison and Vince Levy