Hard news

by Rob Horning

20 August 2007


For those naive enough to believe that Murdoch really wouldn’t change much at the Wall Street Journal once he took over need look no further than today’s paper for evidence to the contrary. Most feared that he would give the paper a conservative slant, or neglect to report information that might harm his business interests, but the real danger is that he’ll try his business readers’ patience by inserting all sorts of “human interest” pieces (i.e. pointless pieces about celebrities) and sensationalistic stories that have nothing whatsoever to do with business. The whole reason I chose the WSJ when I started reading a daily newspaper if that I didn’t want to waste time on things that aren’t news—like crime stories such as this one, about the serial killer who terrorized Virginia Tech University. Bearing no relatio to the paper section in which it appeared—“Marketplace”—and thinly veiled as an investigation into education systems’ failings, this story is just an excuse to devote column space to serial killers, by which many leisure readers are apparently fascinated, to judge by the kind of books that sell. But the WSJ is not for leisure readers; it’s purpose is to provide as much relevant business news that it can fit in its pages without distracting readers from economic matters. It’s bad enough that they run so many service features—advice on what gadgets to buy and what restaurants to try. But crime stories are way over the line, into the realm of total uselessness—into commuter-throwaway-rag territory that Murdoch’s other NY media property, the New York Post, has amply covered.

Yes, it’s a shame when, say, people in Massapequa died in a fire; it’s a tough break for them, but let’s face it: people die every day. And while it’s important that criminals be shamed and social outrage be expressed, there’s no need for it in a paper that needs to conserve its strength for making the financial markets slightly less opaque and for celebrating capitalism’s relentless pursuit of profit regardless of any relatively insignificant human tragedies. Just another reason to switch to the Financial Times, which offers the added bonus of an editorial page that is actually provocative and informative rather than a bad-faith, laughingstock propaganda page masquerading as one.

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