Why wait for Rupert Murdoch to complete his purchase of Dow Jones and let him ruin its Wall Street Journal? As long as the paper is doomed to the editorial mediocrity that is Murdoch's hallmark, the staff should torch the joint before he gets a chance to sully it. And sully it, he will. A story on Page One of today's Wall Street Journal illustrates how Murdoch and his praetorian guard shaped "coverage decisions that advanced the interests of his sprawling media conglomerate."
As satisfying as dynamiting Journal headquarters just as Murdoch arrives to take custody might be, I recommend a subtler strategy of creative destruction. The peach-colored Financial Times, one of the Wall Street Journal's competitors, should raid the Journal and in one swoop steal 100 of its best reporters and editors.
If poaching of a few of the Wall Street Journal's 700 reporters and editors by Condé Nast's Portfolio is considered news, imagine the stir the pillaging of the Journal newsroom by the FT would create. Grand talent raids are common in the law biz, where ambitious firms cripple competitors by looting, say, an entire tax division, and having the defectors bring their clients with them.
The London-based FT moves about 140,000 copies a day in the United States compared to the Wall Street Journal's 2 million. The FT could stand to win hundreds of thousands of new readers if it made a highly visible raid on the Journal—none of this one-or-two-Journal-staffers-at-a-time stuff—and promised to uphold the pre-Murdoch Journal's reputation for excellence, accuracy, and integrity.
If you estimate an average head-count cost of $200,000-$250,000 for each purloined Journalist, the FT would be adding $25 million or so to its editorial budget. That looks like a lot, but it's far from the $5 billion Murdoch has bid for all of Dow Jones. Of course, many of the Journal's most talented will be booking departures upon the arrival of Rupert Murdoch. But if a great mass of them left at the same time for the FT,the raid could cut into Journal circulation. I imagine the FT placing full-page ads in the New York Times business section like this:
Do you miss reading Wall Street Journal All-Stars David Wessel, Walt Mossberg, Amy Marcus, Greg Ip, John Harwood, and Monica Langley? They—and others—have found a new home at the Financial Times. Why don't you join them?
Who, exactly, should the FT steal? We can agree to disagree about specific names. Some of the people on my list might not be on yours. And nobody should feel slighted if they're not on my list, as the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that the Bancrofts don't make the Journal what it is, the people who work there do. If Murdoch succeeds in acquiring the Wall Street Journal but is denied its best journalists, his prize will be hollow. Not being the sentimental sort, I wouldn't mind if he started running Lotto and Page 3 girl photos in the Murdoch Street Journal, just as long as I could get Journal-style journalism elsewhere.
And so, to the list.
First among the first:If the FT raiding party doesn't capture David Wessel, the Journal's Washington deputy bureau chief and economics columnist ("Capital"), it shouldn't bother to return. Also marked for abduction: Special-projects editor Mark Maremont and his Boston wrecking crew (Steve Stecklow, James Bandler, and Charles Forelle). They won this year's public service Pulitzer for their stock-options stories. Monica Langley and Laurie P. Cohen are a pair of investigative aces that can beat anybody else's full house. Roger Thurow sustains the Journal's tradition of great feature writing.
They've got the beat:Susan Pulliam and Randall Smith can be trusted to put the Street in the Wall Street Journal. Daniel Golden hauled in a 2004 Pulitzer for his education stories. Amy Dockser Marcus' work on health and medicine won a 2005 Pulitzer. Dennis K. Berman makes the dangerous world of murders and acquisitions—I mean, mergers and acquisitions—safe to read. For politics and government coverage, I admire David Rogers and John Harwood. For the Fed, Greg Ip. Glenn Simpson excels on the weird-money beat. Karen Richardson beats the hell out Warren Buffett.