On Thursday, Wall Street Journal staffers received a memo from managing editor Marcus Brauchli and books director Roe D’Angelo announcing a new book-leave policy.
It seemed simple enough: if reporters want to write a book they need to inform editors ahead of time; the paper can start providing some marketing help—all pretty pro forma stuff. Mr. Brauchli wrote that the change allows the paper to “protect our interests in books based on Journal reporting.”
But that’s the catch. It’s never spelled out explicitly in the memo, but word spread quickly in the newsroom about one of the hard-to-swallow side effects of the new policy: The Journal now has the right to take a fee from the proceeds of a book if it uses reporting obtained on assignment for the paper.
“In some cases, the Journal seeks a share of the proceeds from a book that originates with Journal reporting,” said Robert Christie, a spokesman for the paper, explaining the new policy. “In turn, the Journal supplies marketing and advertising support for the reporters book.”
The new policy didn’t go over well with the newsroom.
“It’s completely ridiculous,” said one unhappy reporter. “The reality is they don’t want you to write books. They don’t want to lose people—this is a deterrent.”
Word around the newsroom is that the paper can take up to 10 percent, though, Mr. Christie said, “there is no set percentage.”
The new book policy is being set in motion two months into the era of Murdoch. Does the policy pave the way for one that would give News Corp. property HarperCollins first refusal on all Journal-employee books? “We have a publishing agreement with Crown Publishers,” Mr. Christie said.