OFF THE GRID

NYC Section: Is the WSJ Turning In Its Grave?

May 4, 10 | 7:39 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Wall Street Journal has been covering New York City with a dedicated metro section and staff for a week now—and boy is it ghastly. Inside what is still one of the best papers in the world, the new section is a discordant and confounding presence—which may account for the eerie or sheepish quiet about the thing. Everybody’s abashed.

Try this lead: “The mounted patrol officer who put himself between a smoking car bomb and a crowd of people in Times Square—despite being months from retirement—says he was just doing his job.”

It’s a museum of insipid newspaper-isms. There’s the flat-footed and obvious: “Video Image Search Proves Painstaking.” The encomiums to anyone who seems the least civic-minded: “Quick-witted Office Praised.” The belabored metaphors: “Heart of Tourism Keeps Beating.” And, always, the dogged search for good news in our city: “Police, Vendors on Same Team.” With the capper: “Real Soccer Moms Do More than Stand on the Sidelines.”

And all this the day after Time Square almost gotten blown up.

The section itself has gotten lots of attention because of its quixotic and bullying nature: Rupert Murdoch will spend any amount of money to undermine the New York Times. But such determination and grandiosity turns out to be less confounding than the new pages themselves. They aren’t just bad, they’re preposterous.

There are two different brains at the Journal—and I have a pretty good idea whose brain is doing this new section.


(AP Photo)

Rupert Murdoch fancies himself to be a newspaper man of great range and facility. He spends a good deal of his time on the phone with his far-flung editors commandeering them this way and that. But his is a newspaper sensibility of another era. Newspapers and newspapermen may be all from another era—but Rupert’s rules and customs were set specifically in 1954-55 at the Adelaide News, the first and only time he actually ran a paper.

Being a Murdoch editor is a process of negotiating with, avoiding, and submitting to Murdoch’s 1950s sensibility. That’s pretty much the Murdoch-paper dynamic: pretty good news guys who know to give Murdoch what he needs, and, protecting themselves from embarrassment, to diplomatically hold the line at anything more.

The danger is when a project becomes his own. This happened most recently with the redesign in 2007 of the Sunday New York Post. With Murdoch looking over everyone’s shoulder, the Sunday Post became a kind of retro, rotogravure-style collection of homilies, contests, and bathing beauties—as well as a circulation and financial disaster. (One I asked Col Allen, the New York Post’s editor, if Murdoch actually got the Post’s increasing tongue-in-check, nearly post-modern tabloid tone—Allen nearly fell off his bar stool laughing.)

Now, Rupert is the big brain at the Journal’s “Greater New York,” turning out his rinky-dink, saccharine, local-yokel pride and joy, his secret weapon against the New York Times.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at
VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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