Dean Starkman writes of the mayhem at the once-respected Wall Street Journal caused by the resignation of its editor and the ineffectiveness of a committee set up to protect the institution: “At a certain point, tragedy turns into farce, and we are getting awfully close to clown-car territory at The Wall Street Journal.” Starkman, who has consistently opposed the sale of the WSJ to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., has a series in the Columbia Journalism Review about the resignation of the editor and how the special WSJ committee that was supposed to protect its vaunted independence failed. “The special committee on editorial integrity, created last year as part of the News Corp. deal for the Journal’s deadbeat parent, Dow Jones & Co., issued a statement saying it objected to being treated, literally, as an afterthought in the abrupt and strange resignation of Marcus Brauchli as managing editor of the word’s leading financial publication. …This resignation increasingly looks like a pilot parachuting out of a packed airliner,” wrote Starkman.
Slate’s Jack Shafer has given up on the WSJ after penning fierce opposition to the sale to Murdoch. Writes Shafer:
“I first expressed opposition to Murdoch’s purchase of the Journal last year (May 7 and May 8), and while I still hold those views, what’s done is done. Even if a way were found to resurrect Marcus Brauchli as managing editor, the Journal of old is never coming back. Seeing as 1) the newspaper business is in trouble, 2) Murdoch is investing heavily in the Journal, and 3) he’ll do what he wants anyway, let’s find a way to snuff the committee and let him get on with it. I don’t trust Murdoch to do the right thing; I’d rather he ruin the Journal on the principle that a newspaper should belong to its owners than continue with his Special Committee charade.”
A report by Andrew Clark in the Guardian takes an overview of the issue and puts it in context:
“Murdoch’s purchase of Dow Jones was agreed after a lengthy struggle among members of the Bancroft dynasty, some of whom feared that the Australian-born billionaire would not respect the paper’s traditions. The committee was one of several concessions made by Murdoch. He also agreed to pay the Bancrofts’ advisory fees and offered a seat on News Corp’s board to a Bancroft family representative.
“John Morton, a media analyst, said Murdoch had shown an adroit hand in circumventing the committee: “We knew from the beginning that the man who owns the place will end up doing what he wants.”
“The Journal’s weekday circulation rose by 0.4% over the six months to March to 2.07m, which is second only to USA Today among American papers. Murdoch has made little secret of his desire for the Journal to take on the New York Times.”
(That latter fact is worth repeating: “The Journal’s weekday circulation rose by 0.4% over the six months to March … ” Is it just me, or does that increase in a downbeat U.S. newspaper environment suggest readers don’t much care about who owns the WSJ, or about ethical and quality journalism?)
Starkman’s CJR piece is here; it has embedded links to his previous essays.
Shafer’s Slate piece is here.