The Wall Street Journal -- Changing Biz?

Murdoch -- Scarred by Chapter Books?

The Wall Street Journal -- sold to the only bidder. Finally the most obvious outcome arrives after months of drama and teeth gnashing. The Bancrofts apparently hadn't had a family member on the board since 1932, and by all accounts were "hands off" owners, busy with horses, aviation and other pursuits. Cashing out, with the appropriate level of public contemplation, was a clear-cut opportunity.

People are concerned about the outcome of the sale. Their's is reasonable consternation. The New York Post is a freak show, with it's distorted portraits lurching out at you from the newsstands, fear-mongering headlines battling for your attention. This week's issue features a story "The Tragic Madness of King George" -- about George Steinbrenner, of course -- subtitled "Babbling Boss 'Shocks' Pal". I'm surprised they let the "g" stay in "babbling". The Post is world of "Pals", "Cops", "Hubbies", "60 Second" interviews, chases where the "cops" generally prevail, along with riveting human interest tales like "Castrated Dad was 'Monster'. Will the editorial page views of the Wall Street Journal change, people ask? Hmmm...doubtful?...but fair enough....

Hopefully all readers aren't getting their news from the editorial pages, if so it's a sunk cause. But there's obvious confusion, especially given the hopeful to and fro about an independent board, that led the publisher to clarify in his "Report to the Readers", earlier this week:

"...some of the concerns raised about the acquisition have been illegitimate -- and could wrongly impugn the Journal. One is the notion that somehow ownership could be separated from control."

There you have it, people do indeed acquire things to control them, that's "biz".

Shorter Articles for Our Shorter Attention Spans

I'm aware of people's attentions spans in the world of the blog, in fact, I'm quite sure only a few people have read to this point in this article. It is with this understanding that I say that my prediction that the WSJ articles, especially investigative pieces, will get shorter. Not to mention that Murdoch said as much himself when he spoke about some of his ideas for his impending acquisition in a conversation with the New York Times a couple of months ago. He said he had a hard time understanding some of the technology articles. He also expressed his distaste for longer articles: "'I'm sometimes frustrated by the long stories'", he told paper, noting that he '"rarely" finishes' them.

That Murdoch can't finish his articles is as heartbreaking as watching a toddler pick all the green things off her highchair tray and hurl them onto the floor. Indeed it was Murdoch's "unfinished" bits, I'm sure, that most interested us. We noted this in Coke, Teaching the World to Sing (June 7, 2005).

"The Wall Street Journal article takes an interesting approach in its article ["How a Global Web of Activists Gives Coke Problems in India",Steve Stecklow, June 7, 2005]. The intended audience seems to be the corporate world, when the author writes about exaggerations made by exuberant NGOs (Non-Government Organizations). The Wall Street Journal informs readers in the second paragraph that Mr. Srivasta is a "pony-tailed, 39-year old college dropout."

However turning off the front page, you learn that the Wall Street Journal visited the bottling company in Kerala where Coke was accused of dumping toxic waste and found that required soil sample testing was not routinely done. As well, reporters found that while the Coca-Cola corporate website virtuously announced the results of a study that purportedly found a Kerala plant's waste material not hazardous, but that other independent studies concluded the opposite...."

It's exactly these stories that we devour, as they elucidate the complexities of issues, or at least pique our interest and stimulate further research. It's not a rule, but some of the most distorted news spews forth from short pithy sound bites, as on the FOX news network or in other Murdoch publications.

The "Old" WSJ?

Most people don't think of the Wall Street Journal as focusing on public health or environment issues, but we wrote quite a few stories over the past few years referencing Wall Street Journal articles, on diverse subjects, such as:

Some of the WSJ articles were extensive, like Peter Waldman's article on endocrine disruptors (one of a series). Others brought national attention to important issues, such as Thomas Burton's articles on Northfield Laboratories' clinical trials. A few were pure blog fodder, as may more often be the case in the future.

It's Not His Fault

As disappointing as this seems, the trend towards shorter enlivened content preceded Murdoch's incursion. Last January, the WSJ publisher L. Gordon Crovitz, announced changes to the paper that he called, "the first newspaper rethought for today's needs".

"..This includes more interpretation, analysis and context -- more focus on what the rush of news truly means....As Managing Editor Paul Steiger puts it, today perhaps a bit over half of our news space is devoted to exclusive, differentiated information and the rest to essentially what happened the day before. Our goal is to move to 80% exclusive news, with 20% making sure you're aware of the key developments of the previous day. ...Expect to see more forward-leaning coverage, with headlines featuring predictive and explanatory words like "will" and "means" and "why."

This is a more straight-forward admission than the crafty FOX News claim: "We Report, You Decide". The WSJ slant is obviously familiar to us. As Gordon Crowitz stated in his latest, "A Report to Our Readers", two days ago: "Opinions represent only the applicable publication's own editorial philosophies centered around the core principle of "free people and free markets".

Supporting free market ideology isn't new. It's "forward-leaning". Not to be confused with "right-leaning", or "left-leaning", but definitely, positively pro-business. Although FOX and other Murdoch publications broadcast far-right Republican political agendas, Democrats are also "forward-leaning" and pro-business -- albeit more supportive of government regulation and socially liberal values. Remember, Murdoch supports Hilary Clinton. Harper-Collins, owned by Murdoch, published John Edward's last book and provided hefty advances to the now indignant candidate.

News to Hypnotize the Masses - and No Democrat Left Behind

The WSJ also changed the format of the paper last January, because a businessman wrote in and said that when he flew first class, he would knock over his fellow passengers' orange juice, thus... "an easier-to-handle size, to a more standard width" -- New York Post-like. All the better to capture those can't miss opinions about what it all the days events mean. It's unfortunate that the first class businessmen are apparently too distracted to sort out their own opinions.

Hopefully the new Journal will continue providing a certain depth of coverage. If not maybe the analysis and opinions the editors feed to readers will help this broad new population alleviate what The Atlantic last month labeled "Cognitive Dissonance".

The Atlantic proposes a phenomenon where "rational voters", who watch certain cable stations, that feature news about the late Nicole Simpson, for instance, but not than the Iraq War, are dulled by the assuaging effect of the biased news for simpletons. As a result of the networks manufactured lack of concern, say about the Iraq war, these people are prone to support obviously failing government policies, like the war. Why did so many people re-elect Bush when his record was so bad, the article asks? Given the mass audience of WSJ readers, and the potential for the content to spiral south, The Atlantic presents an uncomfortable notion.

But maybe there aren't any "rational voters" anyway. An alternative theory is that maybe the WSJ readers aren't innocent lambs bound for a future shearing. They're self-interested voters, free market adherents both Democrat and Republican, who Murdoch has found corralled together reading the Wall Street Journal. They have already asked for and received WSJ publication changes that trend towards his 'ideals'. Perhaps he increases his personal power by adding Democrats to his audience, which coincidentally benefits his bottom line. So what, we'll ask impudently? Isn't that an accomplishment that all free-market thinkers should applaud?

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