Opinion

Felix Salmon

The sensationalist WSJ

By Felix Salmon
September 22, 2009

frontpage.tiff

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.

Comments
12 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Like this: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12536318 5390630877.html#mod=WSJ_hps_LEFTWhatsNew s

400 words to say, “We’re also going to look at index, and not just singlenames.”

WSJ is financial gossip. A shame that the FT has lost a bit of its edge as well. I blame the bloggers.

 

Also notem that both headlines seem to reflect Mr. Murdoch’s political agenda (at least, my senses of non-native English speaker do not find “sweeping curbs” and “roils allies” particularly balanced and neutral expressions).

Posted by Denis | Report as abusive
 

The problem is that eventually people figure out that you are selling sizzle instead of steak. Down the line the stories are going to have to sensationalized, too, so as not to disappoint.

The WSJ is finished as a newspaper of record. It will gradually slip into becoming a voice of Rupert Murdoch, like his other properties. The readership will increase, and the venerable WSJ will have less and less to do with genuine news reporting. Financially, it will become a tout sheet. Sad.

Posted by Tom Hickey | Report as abusive
 

Such a shame. Assuming the mismanagement continues, it’ll be interesting to see who emerges as the biz community’s fav. Or maybe the WSJ remains top-dog, and the O’Reilly-zation of media rolls on.

 

It will be interesting to see if the FT can capitalise on this change in the US. But I suspect that in practice most of the readers of the WSJ would prefer sensationalist headlines that fit their ideology than neutralish-headlines accompanied by editorials and sometimes news stories that frequently undermine their ideology.

Posted by Ginger Yellow | Report as abusive
 

Re “missile U-turn”: It’s not even true anyway. Ballastic missile defence is *not* being abandoned, the US is merely shifting to THAAD missiles and SM-3s, which are better equipped to deal with (the much more likely) Iranian short to medium range missiles than (non-existant) ICBMs. Furthermore, SecDef Gates announced this in April 09. WSJ — do your research.

Posted by vimothy | Report as abusive
 

any headline using a word with 14 letters is sensationalism at its best!

Posted by dvictr | Report as abusive
 

Financial newspapers are finished as keepers of record. They will gradually slip into becoming a voice of their proprietors, like some have already. The readership will increase, and the venerable brands will have less and less to do with genuine news reporting. Financially, it was only ever a tout sheet. Why should anyone be sad?.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive
 

The WSJ, along with the Washington Post and any other newspaper that hitched its wagon to the neoconservative movement even as it went down in flames, has become a farce unworthy of the attention of anyone seeking to understand current events.

Posted by Tim B | Report as abusive
 

Murdoch — destroying journalism and creating journamalism wherever he goes!

At least when the papers were the “liberal media” one could learn something from them…

 

Since when has propaganda been re-classified as news? The social engineering tool of public perception has been recognized since at least as far back as the Nazi era. It is a tool that has progressed enormously since then because of the great potential for controlling the masses. Certainly our republican neo cons have honed the use of this misleading tactic to a fine art. At first the media had to be hood-winked into participating with the propaganda mill. But daddy Bush knew the significant power of media control. The choice of General Powels son to head the FCC and oversee the rape of the electromagnetic spectrum for the absolute monopoly of the air waves for the Grand Old Party was a shrewd way of keeping the treachery close to home. Many of you have not grasped the true effect of the massing of media ownership into a very few select hands. Maybe it can be summed up by an old monologue from the Outer Limits, if you recall, “do not attempt to adjust the picture, we control the horizontal, we control the vertical.” In a similar manner they control the debate because they control what the news is and what public opinion is. That is why the media has a “liberal bias.” The truth is classified don’t you know! God help them if it ever gets out.

Posted by freefall | Report as abusive
 

“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”

I guess you subscribe or read it online – in Atlanta the news stand price is $3 a paper, which is outrageous.

I decided not to renew when The Journal added what it regarded as a sports page. No thanks – ESPN.com and SI.com take care of that for me.

As opposed to being a great business news paper, The Journal is now just another newspaper with an excellent business section.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive
 

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