Adam Piore writes for Columbia Journalism Review about the conservatism that still plaques The Wall Street Journal despite the departure of former editor Gerard Baker, who was replaced by insider Matt Murray.
Piore writes, “For Murray and for Latour, the conflict was about more than staff morale; the Journal was in the midst of an ambitious push to double its paying customer base, requiring its leaders to pull off an almost impossibly difficult trick in a divided post-Trump America: appeal to new readers without alienating existing ones. The paper’s audience—just over 3.4 million people, many of them in, or retired from, financial professions—is old; according to internal surveys, half of subscribers are over fifty-eight. Roughly 71 percent are men, and at least 70 percent are white. Among the Journal’s dedicated readers, internal surveys suggest, opinion pieces have long been the most reliable draw
“That is not unknown to Journal employees. But recently, as I spoke with about fifty current and former staffers—most on background, fearing retribution—many expressed frustrations that extended beyond the opinion page. Ultimately, what troubles them is the conservatism of the newspaper as a whole, and how that shapes coverage. Editors modulate the tone of political stories, set limits on subject matter, and insist on catering to the Journal’s traditional audience at the expense of growth. Murray—who is fifty-five, with a broad, boyish face—described an allegiance to the formula that the paper has used for generations: cover the news through the lens of business. ‘I think it’s important that we continue to maintain a type of news reporting that is very definitely rooted in reportable fact and has an objective tone,’ he said. Attracting new readers, he believes, can be achieved through service journalism that helps people navigate financial decisions.
“At a moment when just about every other news outlet, it seems, is questioning its conventions and seeking to start a new chapter, the Journal has dug in its heels. That has obvious implications beyond the opinion page; adhering to old habits, and devising coverage that suits right-wing readers, is at once a business stance and an editorial one, a reflection of how much the content of a newspaper comes from defining its audience. But if the Journal stubbornly refuses to change, in the long term, its influence may fade alongside its geriatric readership.”
Read more here.