Shake-up at the WSJ

This may be one of the clearest signals that I'm becoming an old man - I actually care about the fate of the Wall Street Journal. Now, that's mainly because my job is pretty much dependent on understanding what's going on in the financial markets and the WSJ is far and away one of the best sources of news in that area. Even so, I've come to harbor a deep respect for the quality and style of the WSJ's reporting, to the point where I now read it daily on my morning train ride.

In the last day or two, it's become clear that Murdoch's assurances about News Corp. keeping its hands off of the WSJ were a load of bullshit. There have been some minor changes, as reported by both the WSJ and the NYT. This from the latter:

Mr. Murdoch has said publicly that he wants to make The Journal more of a general-interest newspaper, to compete more directly with The New York Times, though he insists he will not diminish its coverage of business.

To that end, The Journal has increased its coverage of other areas, notably politics, and the bulk of its first section is being devoted to general-interest news. The front page has fewer business articles and fewer of the long, offbeat features that were a signature of the paper.

This is troubling in and of itself. While I doubt that Murdoch is going to do to the WSJ what he did to the New York Post (i.e. turn it into a big freaking joke), he's clearly trying to use the WSJ as a platform for his conservative agenda. While I'm not entirely averse to the idea of having an ideological counterpoint to the NYTimes, I am averse to the fashioning of that counterpoint being executed by the man that is responsible for Fox News, which is now infamous for its willingness to ride blithely over a little detail called journalistic integrity, or more plainly put, factual accuracy. If Murdoch poisons that particular well, then he can kiss my subscription goodbye.

The biggest change to date has been the "resignation" of managing editor Marcus Brauchli. However, an article from highlights the exact nature of that resignation.

Constructive termination, or constructive discharge, is a legal concept meaning a change in an employee's working conditions of the sort that would cause any reasonable person to quit. It's been widely reported, including by me, that News Corp. did indeed engineer a "material change" in Brauchli's "duties or responsibilities." Once Robert Thomson was appointed as publisher, Brauchli ceased to be the top editorial voice at the paper, and was left out of major decisions, including the development of a culture section and the launch of a new overseas edition. Pre-Murdoch, such decisions would clearly have been part of his purview. In other words, Brauchli was demoted.

Then, to top it all off, Thomson and new Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton actually told Brauchli, earlier this month, that they'd prefer a managing editor of their own choosing.

Add it all up, and News Corp.'s claim that Brauchli "resigned" starts to look pretty vulnerable, legally speaking.

So far, it sounds as if Murdoch has no compunctions about bending the contractual obligations of the deal to have his way with the paper.

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