The sensationalist WSJ
The front page of Friday’s WSJ was not its finest hour. Along the top was the headline “Bankers Face Sweeping Curbs on Pay” — something which occasioned Justin Fox to note that “in the pre-Murdoch era that would have been a 600-word story on page A24, headlined ‘Fed Mulls Pay Guidelines’.”
Underneath that headline was the biggest front-page story: “U.S. Missile U-Turn Roils Allies”. Except there was nothing in the story to indicate that any allies were roiled at all. The online story now has the headline “Allies React to U.S. Missile U-Turn”, along with a formal correction of the old headline.
Dean Starkman wants to know “whether this is part of a larger story”: of course it is. The WSJ is now being edited by a man who cut his teeth in the fiercely competitive Australian and UK markets, where front-page stories drive newsstand sales and newsstand sales drive profits. Sweeping curbs on pay and roiled allies make for great headlines, and mean that readers are that much more likely to shell out $2 for the paper. Unfortunately, they also increase readers’ mistrust in the paper — Americans aren’t used to the feeling, common in the UK, that the headline massively oversells the story.
The WSJ doesn’t need to do this, but Murdoch does: it’s in his blood. A Murdoch paper without punchy headlines which grab you by the throat is pretty much a contradiction in terms. Readers of the WSJ will have to get used to trusting the stories more than the headlines, or the implicit news judgment which governs where they’re placed. The WSJ’s journalism seems to be much less scathed than the headlines have been.