New York Times poaches Wall Street Journal spokesman Christie

March 9, 2010

The New York TimesProfessional New York Times haters often fixate on the company’s seeming haplessness and its namesake newspaper’s flat-footed, delayed and defensive strategies for dealing with bad news, bad press and bad times for newspapers. Today the Times said it has hired Wall Street Journal spokesman Robert Christie, a move that could change this perception.

Christie, 40, has been the public voice of The Wall Street Journal through some of its most difficult moments in recent years. The most notable of those was when News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch decided that it and parent company Dow Jones would look good in his media menagerie and pried it from the hands of the Bancroft family with lots and lots of money as his WD-40. Christie, who joined Dow Jones in 2003, has been a staunch defender of the Journal’s reputation not only for the Bancroft family regime, but the Murdoch one too.

That’s what makes the Times’s move not just interesting, but cheeky. The Times has seen itself in media headlines in recent years more than it would like. Much of the recent ones herald stories about how Murdoch wants to destroy the Times in many of its big coverage areas, most recently by saying it will launch a New York City edition of the Journal. The Times under previous PR chief Catherine Mathis did its share of fighting off the dogs, but without her, the paper and its parent company under the Ochs-Sulzberger clan has looked at times like it’s quietly quaking before the Murdoch onslaught while publicly ignoring the barbarians at the gate. Christie has been part of that assault, thanks to his role at the Journal, and now that the Times has had a chance to appreciate what he has to offer, they’ve decided to buy.

Unlike the way things operate at the Times, Christie often jumps in front of a story rather than hiding. Part of why I worked well with him when I covered media full time is because he also didn’t try to pretend that bad news didn’t exist. It would have been interesting to see him handle the case of Zachery Kouwe, the New York Times reporter who reportedly plagiarized stories from the Journal, Reuters, Dealbreaker and other news outlets. I suspect that Christie would not have refused to comment on Kouwe, even to the point of refusing to say whether he was leaving the paper. The Times at the time said it did not discuss personnel issues, something that obviously is not true. If you go by the official record, Kouwe must still work there, something we also know is obviously not true.

With Christie at the PR helm, the Times might try to tell its own story in a more active way. That’s a big deal when there is so much news that the Times could produce: What will happen to the Boston Red Sox stake that they own? How will its relationship with Mexican billionaire and big Times investor Carlos Slim shake out? On a deeper level, how is the Times going to survive the slow death of the business that its been in since 1851? My educated guess is that Christie knows how to get Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr and Chief Executive Janet Robinson to make their case in honest, yet polished ways.

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Not suprised that the WSJ would loose talent to a competitor since this seems to be a regular occurance at businesses that News Corp acquires, destroys then blames management of the company they acquired creating an environment that drives out talent they need to survive. Just look at Myspace as an example. Murdoch blames everyone but himself for his mistakes which indicates he must be a very insecure person. I predict that this is just the tip of the iceberg of defections from the Journal as Murdoch’s my way or the highway management style is implemented inconjunction with the I know better then you management style. News Corp seems to thrive at producing tabloid papers rather then quality Journalism as can be seen in the change in format at the Journal which is no longer a business publication hence the reason I read the FT, Economicist, Reuters, Bloomberg etc in print and/or online.

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