Departure of 'Journal' Editor Rekindles Suspicions

Rupert Murdoch's purchase of The Wall Street Journal was greeted with dire predictions of his strong-arming editors at the well respected paper. After a relatively quiet period and some good reviews of his early tenure, the questions have been raised again by the departure of editor Marcus Brauchli.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Today, the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal announced that he is stepping down just four months after Rupert Murdoch took over the paper. Murdoch also emerged as the top suitor for the tabloid Newsday, which serves Long Island and Queens. That would give Murdoch's News Corp control over a large chunk of the New York media.

NPR's David Folkenflik joins us to help explain what's happening. And David, first of all, why is the Wall Street Journal managing editor, Marcus Brauchli, departing so quickly?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, that's right. He actually had only taken over the job - been appointed by the previous owners, Dow Jones back - took office last May. He was leaving in part because, you know, Rupert Murdoch, you know, didn't pay $5 billion for Dow Jones - and particularly at the Journal - not to exert some control over it. And Murdoch and his trusted aide, Robert Thompson, who'd previously been the editor of Murdoch's London Times, were starting to really shape a little bit the direction of the paper. They want it to be a little bit less a business daily and more of a general interest newspaper. Murdoch himself was reported to be showing up in the newsroom on weekends, haranguing editors a little bit about headlines and about story selection, shaping the paper in a way that made Brauchli feel that this was not entirely the paper that he had - or the scenario that he had signed on to become editor under. One other point: Brauchli took pains today to tell staffers there had not been political or commercial meddling, that is, that Murdoch hadn't interfered with coverage to advance his own interests, as he has been known to do at a number of his media properties across the world.

SIEGEL: But if we are seeing more, say, political stories in the front page of the Journal, we're seeing evidence of Murdoch's push to make the Journal a more general-interest newspaper?

FOLKENFLIK: I think that's right. I think you could see that if you look today, there is a package, if I'm not mistaken, of three stories about today's primary in Pennsylvania - particularly important for Democrats, of course, Senators Obama and Clinton. And that was a kind of package you were perhaps less likely to see a few years ago in the Journal. The Journal tends to think not wanting just the next day's story ahead of time, it wanted to think two, three, four days ahead of time. And you're also seeing stories that are a little more reactive, generally, a little bit less of the contemplative, in-depth look that is isn't triggered by that day's news or the particularly quirky feature. Although, I must say, there was a feature today about certain kinds of grooming of wool farmers, I guess.

SIEGEL: What's driving the push - Murdoch's push to make the Journal a more general-interest paper as opposed to a business paper?

FOLKENFLIK: He wants to take it to the New York Times. He's made no secret about that. He thinks it can be the preeminent general-interest newspaper - make it perhaps a touch less for the elites, accessible to more readers, a place for one-stop shopping. That is, you get not only a political and business and financial coverage - sports and cultural coverage as well. And he also wants to extend the Wall Street Journal brand abroad in Europe, make it a worthy competitor and perhaps supersede the Financial Times there as well.

SIEGEL: So, where in that scheme would possibly purchasing Newsday fit in?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's not forget Murdoch's other holdings. There's the New York Post, which has given him a foothold in media circles but also loses a lot of money. He feels if he combines the backroom operations, he can save a lot of money there. But it also provides sort of a way to really kind of trap the New York Times geographically. If he owns the Post, the Journal and Newsday, it can provide a real challenge for advertisers and readers, I think, for the New York Times in its home geographic base.

SIEGEL: Okay, thank you David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

That's NPR's David Folkenflik.

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