Back in January, I griped about how genocidal tyrant Rupert Murdoch, having just won the pink slip to the Wall Street Journal, was already ruining it. I based my riff on an e-mail observation from my friend Ben Compaine, in which he noted that the Journal had abandoned its tight focus on business and was now larding its pages with mediocre political and international coverage. (See the content analysis from the Project for Excellence in Journalism that proves my point.)
Call it subtraction by addition.
Murdoch's design—stated and restated—was to knock the New York Times off its perch as the first newspaper the elites reach for each morning. Fat chance of that, I thought, as the Murdoch-ized Journal landed on my doorstep week after week.
And then some time around the beginning of the month, my disposition changed, and the Journal moved to the head of my daily newspaper line—not because of its political and international coverage but because it was swinging hard again in its traditional wheelhouse to produce great enterprise journalism.
Stick your hand in your recycling pile for a Journal, and I guarantee you'll come up with a winner. Among my recent personal favorites is its series "The Fall of Bear Stearns" by Kate Kelly and "Countrywide Friends Got Good Loans," which ultimately put an end to Jim Johnson's veep-vetting, by Glenn R. Simpson and James R. Hagerty. Today's piece by Timothy Aeppel about outsourced manufacturing returning to the United States because of onerous shipping costs reeks of smartness.
Who knew successful Christers were spreading the gospel with franchise marketing tricks? Alexandra Alter, take a bow. Susanne Craig has been doing strong work on the Lehman Brothers story. Other keepers: Mark Maremont on the big payouts due to CEOs—when they die; Joann S. Lublin on the security bills footed by corporations for their CEOs (I'd love to see this mashed up—extravagant security bills for dead CEOs!); Ethan Smith on the battle inside Live Nation over its "360 deals" with Madonna and Jay-Z; Edward Taylor on Europeans saving money by buying European luxury cars in the United States and shipping them back home; Jesse Drucker on billionaire Philip Anschutz's "tax strategy"; and Robert A. Guth on the Gates-Ballmer love spat. (I know I've missed a ton of great pieces, so forgive me if your favorite isn't on this short list.)
Why a sudden Journal renaissance, or at least my perception of a Journal renaissance? Maybe the Journal seems refreshed because the primary wrap-up has largely evicted political news from Page One, and into that vacancy has dropped what I consider the good stuff. Was the good stuff there all the time, but I just wasn't noticing it?
On an entirely speculative tangent, maybe Robert Thomson, who added managing editor to his existing publisher title last month, has started to appreciate the newspaper's real strengths. Or maybe it's an accident. Or a trap set by Murdoch to lure unsuspecting readers. Regardless, if the Journal continues on this course, a year's subscription at $99 will continue to be the best deal American newshounds can purchase. (The Journal pushes a bunch of different prices for a subscription. I got my last one for $90, I think, and it included online access. If you discover a cheaper offer, e-mail me and I'll update.)
On a negative note. How well does the Wall Street Journal cover its corporate cousin Fox News Channel? Based on today's performance, not so well. High in a story hooked to the "Obama's Baby Mama" controversy on Fox News isthis mindbender of a passage:
In a campaign that includes the first viable African-American presidential candidate, the lines of appropriate speech have become fuzzy. News organizations are under pressure from a broad network of self-appointed watchdogs, including organized groups like Media Matters and individuals. These watchdogs are likely to remain vigilant about gaffes, misstatements and potentially biased language through the November vote. [Emphasis added.]