New 'WSJ' City Section Takes Aim At 'New York Times'

Greater New York

The Wall Street Journal's Greater New York Section is seen by some as the latest strike in a battle between the Journal and The New York Times. Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

For the first time in its existence, the Wall Street Journal unveiled an edition on Monday with a section devoted solely to local news, featuring stories on state politics, timely New York sports scores, local gossip pages, weather, and a lot — a whole lot — about Manhattan real estate.

It is all the things one never expected to read in the nation's leading financial newspaper.

As the paper's controlling owner, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, has pointed out, The New York Times has more than 200,000 more subscribers than the Journal in greater New York. He says that offers a lot of room to grow — hence the Journal's new "Greater New York" section.

But a larger game is afoot. Since News Corp.'s purchase of the Journal in 2007, editors have sought to expand the paper's reach, broadening its mission to compete with the Times for its role as the nation's newspaper of record. This is another front in that battle.

Murdoch has long said he considers the Times to be arrogant and that it pursues a liberal agenda. He recently told Marvin Kalb at the National Press Club that the Times put on its front page "anything [President] Obama wants."

Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson declined to be interviewed in advance of Monday's first local edition. But Times executives said the Journal will be offering steep discounts to advertisers — and that the Times will not be following suit.

"Our coverage of New York is not just the police blotter or the courts or government or politics," Scott Heekin-Canedy, the president and general manager of the Times Co., said in an interview. "It also includes culture and finance, the arts, style, fashion, sports. We've been covering those beats for many, many years. We're respected for that coverage, and our reader comes to it for us."

In statements to the media, executives at the Journal said the claims of discounts were overblown.

The Times is not ignoring the challenge. It poached the Journal's chief public relations executive, Robert Christie, as well as a young reporter from the embryonic Journal metro section. It's running ads with testimonials from executives of upper-end advertisers who vouch for the Times's performance in reaching desired customers. And it's hardly an accident that Monday's front page featured an above-the-fold look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tendency to spend much of his time at his private home in Bermuda.

Both newspapers have a lot at stake. Although Murdoch has deep pockets, the Journal could imperil its franchise as the nation's clearly authoritative paper on financial matters while seeking to eclipse the Times on the broader news scene. For the Times, which has endured a rough few years financially, success for the Journal could undercut its standing.

And some head games have ensued. The Times had to fire a business reporter who was found to be plagiarizing blog postings from the Journal. After Times media columnist David Carr wrote a piece observing a conservative tilt in the Journal's news pages, Journal editor Thomson responded with a statement that accused the Times of seeking to sabotage a journalism award for the Journal's reporting in an unrelated incident.

Thomson wrote, "Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times."

Most recently, a Journal feature piece claiming that men with effeminate faces are more appealing to women included an only partially obscured photo of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. as an example.

Heekin-Canedy compared the Journal's treatment of the Times to the brash approach taken by another Murdoch media property: the Fox News Channel.

"We've been vilified, unjustly so and often factually incorrectly, most often factually incorrectly, by Fox News," Heekin-Canedy told NPR. "This is just another flavor of that, I'd say."

That connection rankles many reporters and editors at the Journal, most of whom see themselves as seeking to maintain the paper's tradition of impeccable journalism amid a changing media landscape.

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