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October 04, 2005

Editorial Page Personality Makeover: The WSJ

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

If I wasn't so lazy, I'd dig around and come up with a man-bites-dog story. But I thought this post up during my usual early afternoon down-time, so it's gonna be dog-bites-man.

I've worked in a top-level government agency off and on for more than 15 years and have seen at least seven agency directors swiveling away on their fancy chairs (including one who went on to become president of Starbuck's). And nearly every one of them strongly influenced the tone and style of the agency, consciously or not.

(This is the dog-bites-man angle I just mentioned. Some year I need to come up with a case of an organization changing the personality of the person in charge.)

One director, for example, ran an agency cowering under a seemingly benevolent, yet highly politically-correct management style. Another director favored a kick 'em in the teeth approach -- the 'em being other agencies.

And any sports fan can cite many cases of teams assuming personality traits of their coach.

What this is leading up to is changes I've noticed in the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal since Paul Gigot took over as editor from (the now late) Robert Bartley.

Bartley struck me as being a bright, intellectually-curious ideas-oriented guy. And I found his editorial page a joy to read. Nearly every edition delivered at least one or two especially snappy lead editorials plus an equal number of stimulating op-ed columns. Bartley liked to claim that his editorial page was one of those rare ones that actually sold papers. This was largely the case for me: I developed the habit of going out to breakfast and lingering with that third cup of coffee over Bartley's page.

Gigot, on the other hand, seems to be something of a policy wonk -- I got that impression back when he was just a columnist and editorial writer. His heart's in the right place, but his op-eds are often written by (or ghosted for) Important People. My eyes, as the saying goes, glaze. The basic editorials are still pretty well-written, but I sometimes wonder how long that will continue. Plus, I'm less tempted to buy the Journal these days.



posted by Donald at October 4, 2005


Yeah, I would definitely agree with your analysis of their OpEd page. One other complaint that I would add (as a WSJ subscriber) is their lack of philosophical rigor when it comes to social issues.

One of the things that I love about the WSJ is their strict conservatism when it comes to economic issues. That means they will fry Republicans if they start spending like drunken sailors. Or over-regulating, or whatever. And, of course, this goes for Democrats as well.

But when it somes to social issues (like Abortion, prayer in school, evolution, etc.) they tend to be much more pro-Republican than pro-Conservative.

I am not saying Conservative = Good and Liberal = Bad, but I do respect people who stand for ideas and ideals and not for parties and partisan politics.

Anyway, that is my 2 cents.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on October 5, 2005 9:54 AM

Yeah, I agree with both you guys. Seems much less thoughtful and much more like hack party cheerleading these days. Too bad. Too bad too the way that political types so often rise to the top. I suppose I should be more open minded than I am about this, but my general reaction to primarily-political types is "screw 'em all."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 5, 2005 10:43 AM

When I restructured my business, I gave up my subscription to the WSJ. Haven't missed it. It's all part of my ongoing recovery from all forms of political thinking...Life is too short.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 5, 2005 11:08 AM

I also have two other beefs with business journalism, generally. (1) It's way too backward looking. (2) It's way too dominated by stories that are nothing but follow ups on press releases from large companies...which is how it gets to be so darn backward looking. Most of the really interesting trends in business are niche or industry specific, and fly right under the radar of business journalists.

To misquote Samuel Johnson, he who is tired of business is tired of life. Somehow, most business journalism makes me feel tired of life.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 5, 2005 11:14 AM

Too much of business journalism is written by people who have an antipathy towards business and businessmen.

My major beef with business journalism is that it is much too personality driven.

Posted by: Pat Hobby on October 5, 2005 1:56 PM

Friedrich -- I always buy the WSJ Fridays for the weekend section which has lots of intering stuff, including Teachout's reviews. Monday, I often skip because it lacks an arts/books page. I looked at a recent weekend edition, but it didn't seem worth the extra 50 cents (plus tax, for those in CA).

Having once been in the press-release trade, I know they can be useful for tipping editors to new stuff. But the ones that use releases (nearly) unedited are small papers that need content to wrap around the Thursday ads. In theory, the WSJ should hand the release to a reporter and ask him to do something with it besides tack on a new lede.

What gripes me about the WSJ is the front-page stuff the uses names individuals to personalize some supposed condition or trend. Standard anecdote journalism, but I always wonder what real DATA would show.

Pat -- The paragraph above seems to echo one of your points. The business-hating stuff might be most common on your local rag, but I see hints of it in the WaPo and NYT at times. The WJS does best. Financial Times is on par with the WSJ on business news, but their news section and ed page are a horror (unless you're a euro-elitist). Or so I think.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 6, 2005 7:59 AM

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