In the Wall Street Journal newsroom on Dec. 13, the day the paper officially became News Corp. property, Rupert Murdoch and new publisher Robert Thomson addressed hundreds of reporters who came loaded with plenty of questions.
Murdoch understatedly acknowledged the “nervousness” caused by his purchase of the privately run Dow Jones, and Thomson, rather enigmatically, cautioned, “While it’s right to be respectful of the past, these days it is certainly fatal to be haunted by history. He who stands still will be overrun.”
So the past is prologue but the future is change. New approaches are afoot, but neither Murdoch nor Thomson were talking specifics, which likely only heightened worries about the “Foxification” of the hallowed Journal.
Even before that face-to-face session, the New York Times had spotlighted the newsroom’s anxious mood in a Dec. 12 story that quoted unidentified sources saying that a lot of bold ideas have been bandied about. Two of the most striking: the words “Wall Street” might be removed from the paper’s name, and some stories won’t jump from the front page.
“There’s definitely a lot of concern that some of the things we’re most proud of could be in jeopardy,” says one Journal reporter. “Things we treasure, the quirkier stories, the longer investigative pieces, could disappear.”
Other Journal insiders are more upbeat, no doubt assuaged by the notion that Murdoch is actually opening his wallet for the paper during tough times for newspapers in general, even personally wooing some veteran staffers to stay with pay hikes and courting new journos with attractive offers.
And it’s not as if the Journal hadn’t already been undergoing changes. A January redesign changed fonts, pumped up photos and eliminated an entire column. The paper has added many new sections and, controversially, a Saturday edition.
One insider says the smart money is on the paper being renamed simply the Journal, given Murdoch’s stated intent to beef up non-finance coverage.
As for the essence of the paper’s coverage, most staffers side with one insider who says, “(Murdoch) knows better than to mess with the integrity of the content itself.”
At least that’s what they’re hoping.