Thomson’s Memo to WSJ Staffers Means Even Less Trend Stories 1


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Robert Thomson has drawn press recently for his comments regarding Google and how it devalues everything it touches.  However, it’s his recent internal memo that has everyone really talking. The memo, which was distributed last Thursday to all Journaland Dow Jones’ staffers (first reported by Chris Roush of Talking Biz News), signaled a strategic shift by the Dow Jones / News Corp. leadership in moving towards a focus on breaking news for Dow Jones Newswires. Thomson wrote:

“Even a headstart of a few seconds is priceless for a commodities trader or a bond dealer — that same story can be re-purposed for a range of different audiences, but its value diminishes with the passing of time. Given that revenue reality, henceforth all Journal reporters will be judged, in significant part, by whether they break news for the Newswires.”

To no one’s surprise, the part of the memo focused on judging reporters on breaking news – sent ripples through Journal bureaus across the country.

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Jeff Bercovici of Conde Nast reports that reporters for the Journal were taken back by the tone of Thomson’s message:

“It’s a pretty definitive statement to say that henceforth people will be significantly judged by the frequency with which they break news for bond traders,” says the reporter. “That hasn’t really been the mission of reporters here. It was to make sense of events for the lay reader, and to dig into stories and tell stories in a way that people would remember.” “It’s depressing to a lot of people who have been there for a long time,” says an ex-staffer who left recently. “Maybe there’s a market for selling this s*** to people who are creating trading algorithms, but there’s nobody on the Journal‘s staff who wants to write that stuff. You didn’t sign up to write 130-word squibs. You signed up to file 3,000-word mini-New Yorker stories for the front page.”

Adding more fuel to the fire – even though it’s likely a coincidence in terms of timing – two Journal investigative reporters left this week to start a new company.

So what does this really mean for the Journal going forward? First of all, I have to agree with Dean Starkman, a former reporter with the Journal - who posted this for the Columbia Journalism Review:

“Any implication that Journal writers are lolling around, not working hard enough, and don’t share Thomson’s sense of urgency about the crisis in newspapers is a joke. If they worked any harder over there there’d be nothing left but a few pools of butter on the newsroom floor.”

In my opinion, the reporters at the Journal work harder to break stories than any other news organization – already. Yes, some are working on big, page 1, deep-dives, but the majority are chasing news. That has only increased over the last several months as editors have gotten in their ears about the need to break differentiated stories that will bring page views and advertisers. They’re not living in a bubble, sheltered from the media realities that are now upon us. They realize what it will take to survive in this time: breaking original stories that draw traffic.

It’s not any different across the industry. Reporters  scattered throughout the country, who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs, are getting  pulled into covering breaking financial and corporate news. There’s no way around it. Trend stories are being pushed if (they’re lucky), and completely dropped in most cases.

In fact, the Journal has been one of the few papers to actually avoid this in some respects, maintaining the ability to cover trend stories about “the clouds” on page 1.

However, with this memo, it appears that Murdoch and Thomson are moving away from those Journal-famous page 1 stories. It’s Baffling, as some pundits have noted, given that Murdoch has taken dead-aim at the New York Times since he acquired the Journal, shifting its content towards political and mainstream news and away from straight Wall Street headlines. Now they appear headed to challenge business wire services like Bloomberg and Reuters.

Just another illustration of the changing media times, and even more reason for private companies to look elsewhere, for pitching their positive, trendy, story.


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