Toward a More Ordinary Journal

Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal two years ago this weekend, writes David Carr in this week’s Media Equation column, and despite the distress of “journalism church ladies,” everything is, in all the obvious ways, sort of OK-ish. Carr seems to say that Murdoch did not unleash hell: just a less analytical, more politicized paper. 

Murdoch’s impact at the Journal was felt quickly, starting with the change of location. (He moved the Journal‘s offices from its historic downtown location to News Corp. headquarters in Midtown.) As John Koblin reported in early 2008, staff reaction wasn’t driven so much by sentimental attachment to the Financial District so much as concern over what it meant to occupy office space in Murdoch’s empire:

“Now we’re going to be a few floors away from Rupert and that’ll be different—he can just walk down to the newsroom if he wants and decree whatever,” said one reporter. “Whereas down here, yes, the acquisition went through, but you don’t really feel a presence. We’re still a little island down here. When we get up there, it’ll really set in that he owns us.”

“I’ve never been there, but I’m imagining big pictures of Bill O’Reilly in the lobby,” said another.

As the physical situation has become more News Corpy, so, in subtle ways, has the coverage. Charlie Kaiser recently noted, for example, the late insertion of a paragraph into the Journal‘s Ted Kennedy obit that quoted Rush Limbaugh criticizing the “slobbering media coverage” of Kennedy.

But from a consumer perspective, the ideological stuff is maybe a little beside the point. At the most basic level, Murdoch simply wants The Journal to win on his terms, starting with his dream of toppling The Times (and maybe rendering ownership of the money-losing The New York Post superfluous, for his purposes), and what he’s doing is consistent with that.

The Observer wrote on the eve of the sale:

To Mr. Murdoch, The New York Times represents exhibit A in his case that the mainstream—that is, the non-Murdoch-owned—media ignores a certain viewpoint: namely, that particular blend of conservative populism, tabloid exuberance and capitalist cheerleading with which he has rewritten the rules of the news business. Now Mr. Murdoch, 76, is gearing up to use The Wall Street Journal to further that viewpoint—and in the process, knock The Times off its pedestal.

So no, actually, he hasn’t made the Journal into The Sun. He’s made it into something different from what it was, and maybe more competitive with the The Times, and, as a former Journal staffer told Carr, “much more ordinary.”

Which, apparently, is just what Murdoch needs in his portfolio at the moment. Toward a More Ordinary Journal