Struggling to expand the WSJ’s story view repeats itself
by Chris Roush
Since being acquired by News Corp. in 2007, the Wall Street Journal has looked to expand its coverage to more topics than just business and economics news.
That’s nothing new, writes former Journal managing editor and executive editor Warren Phillips in his soon-to-be-released book “Newspaperman: Inside the News Business at The Wall Street Journal.”
Phillips, who later become the CEO of Dow Jones & Co., writes:
The sharpest differences I had with Ed Cony and Fred Taylor were over what I considered their occasional drift away from keeping our reporting staff’s primary focus on business news, and their misreading of what they sometimes portrayed as a lack of enthusiasm by me for broader, nonbusiness stories. Symbolic of this rift was my criticism of a page-one leader on life in a Scottish monastery, and another on wife abuse in the United Kingdom. One of my problems with such stories was a lack of relevance to our readers. Another was that they failed to measure up to the standards we applied to all stories: They just were not strong stories, period.
I had long worked to broaden the paper’s coverage to include trends in education, medicine, science, social changes, and most definitely, readers’ personal and family budgets and finances. The Journal had defined its mission, under Kilgore and then Kerby, as covering everything that had to do with living and spending those earnings. Put another way, everything affecting the reader’s pocketbook. My oft-proclaimed supplement to that sermon was that our readers’ interests were not confined to their business, but very much extended to their health, the education of their children, and the social forces shaping our society and its future. In another area of coverage, I was not opposed to the whimsical features that occupied the center column on page one each day, and which we called the A-head, after the three-quarter-boxed headline style that identified them. I loved those stories, provided they were on intriguing subjects and well done. What I did oppose was allowing reporters to concentrate so much time on such stories that it resulted in neglecting our core coverage.
I was concerned with balance — not overfocusing so much staff time and front-page space on light, whimsical features or other nonbusiness subjects that our specialty, being best in coverage of business, was weakened in the process.
The book is scheduled to be released later this month.