ink-stained wretches

Marcus Brauchli’s Ouster: the ‘Journal’ Version vs. the ‘Observer’ Version

Murdoch and Brauchli

Photo: Getty Images, Patrick McMullan

This morning’s Observer and Journal stories about Rupert Murdoch and outgoing Journal managing editor Marcus Brauchli deserve a second look, if only because they provide a meta-example of the issue that they are essentially covering. It turns out that Marcus Brauchli was basically asked to quit, the Journal reports, because he was acting as a middleman between the current edit staff and the new News Corp. regime. Murdoch and his publisher/henchman Robert Thomson wanted a company lackey instead. But Brauchli seemed relatively disgusted with all of the things Murdoch was trying to force him to do anyway, so he was happy to leave. In other words, these are stories about how Murdoch is trying to control the content of the august paper, even though he’s technically not allowed to, per his purchase agreement. The Journal published a long story about the ordeal, which actually seems to be pretty accurate in terms of events and ideas. But the phrasing is just different. As you’d expect, John Koblin’s excellent piece in the Observer is more critical and, well, observational than the Journal’s version. Whether it’s reporters and editors being afraid to piss off their overlord, or actual manipulation by News Corp brass, or merely nothing at all, it’s subtle but noticeable.

From the Journal: “In recent months, the paper has begun putting more emphasis on shorter news stories and more general news, as part of a push by News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch to broaden readership and to compete more directly with the New York Times.”
From the Observer: “‘Marcus said that Murdoch admires a lot of things that are reminiscent of the way Financial Times runs the paper—short, no jump stories,’ said a reporter from the Los Angeles bureau. … In Washington last week, while on a conference call with reporters, the current Page One editor Mike Williams spent much of the time talking to reporters about headline sizes. ‘He talked about changed the size of the headline type,’ said one Washington reporter. ‘There wasn’t a conversation about the quality of our stories. It came across like they’re scrambling in New York in trying to figure out what Murdoch wants. They want scoops.’”

From the Journal: “Current Journal publisher and former Times of London editor Robert Thomson isn’t expected to take the title of interim managing editor, but he may take a more active role in the newsroom in the meantime.”
From the Observer: “‘My view of that situation is, and I’m hard-pressed to think how anyone could think of it differently, is Rupert Murdoch is the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal,’ said Michael Wolff, the Vanity Fair columnist who is currently writing a book on The Journal’s transition to News Corp., and who has been regularly interviewing Mr. Murdoch these days. ‘In that position, he speaks to Robert Thomson, and then Robert Thomson speaks to Marcus Brauchli.’”

From the Journal: “About 10 days ago, Mr. Thomson and Dow Jones Chief Executive Officer Leslie Hinton summoned Mr. Brauchli to a meeting about his future, according to people familiar with the situation. They suggested it might be better to have their own person running the newspaper, these people say. He agreed, these people say.”
From the Observer: “Whether Mr. Brauchli was forced out, or whether he actually resigned—which virtually no Journal staffers believe—does not matter. The press release sent out by Dow Jones 16 hours after that Time story, and Mr. Brauchli’s own follow-up note to his staff, tell the story clearly enough. [Insert friendly quote about Brauchli here from Murdoch’s statement] In other words: You’ve been useful so far; now, get out of town.”

From the Journal: “[Oversight committee members, assigned to ensure that Murdoch did not unduly influence the content of the paper] said they’d questioned Mr. Brauchli about his decision, and he had assured them that his exit had ‘nothing to with any integrity issue at the Journal.’”
From the Observer: “While visiting the Los Angeles bureau, [Brauchli] was asked whether The Journal was going to be able to retain its identity against the strong will of the newspaper’s new master. ‘As long as I’m here it will,’ he told the reporters, ‘but I don’t know much longer I’ll be around for.’”

From the Journal: “When News Corp. took over, Dow Jones had been a slow-growing company wounded by a disintegrating business climate for newspapers.”
From the Observer: “The old idea of The Journal was of a straight business newspaper wrapped in a magazine. That magazine could carry offbeat A-heds and stories from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists that were the culmination of months of full-time reporting. It was the ultimate in acting luxurious with talent: to put months of hard labor and editing onto a newspaper page that would last a day on the stands before hitting the recycling bin.”

From the Journal: “Mr. Brauchli had commissioned work on a glossy magazine the year before, which became a prototype to be shown to the new owners, who were pushing for such a product. The prototype was revised to focus more on style and fashion, its name was changed, and a new editor was hired who had run a similar magazine at the Times of London.”
From the Observer: “Mr. Brauchli had selected an editor, Journal feature writer Robert Frank, to run their version of The Times’ wildly successful T magazines, and he had given it its name. But soon after Mr. Murdoch’s takeover was complete, Mr. Frank was kicked off the magazine and it was put directly in the control of Mr. Murdoch’s right-hand man at The Journal, the noted Murdoch loyalist Robert Thomson. Mr. Thomson installed an old News Corp. ally, Tina Gaudoin, to take over the project. The magazine was ripped apart, and renamed. And last week, it was Mr. Brauchli burning the shoe leather in California selling advertisers on the magazine that must have seemed to him an absolute rejection of his own editorial vision.”

Marcus Brauchli’s Ouster: the ‘Journal’ Version vs. the ‘Observer’ Version