When newspapers do battle, the bullets are words. And the bullets were flying Monday morning at a launch event for The Wall Street Journal's New York City metro section.
As he and other News Corp. (NWS) executives have done repeatedly in recent weeks, Robert Thomson, the Journal's managing editor, directed a series of verbal darts at The New York Times (NYT), the intended victim of Rupert Murdoch's ambitious expansion. The Times, he said, is vulnerable in its home market, having lost readers there in recent years. "It has been a decade of decline, and that's not just because of the upheaval in the newspaper industry," he said. "Readers have a choice, and they are quite rightly choosing."
Thomson suggested readers are deserting the Times because they are fed up with the pursuit of a political agenda in its news pages. Reporting should inform a writer's conclusions rather than the other way around, he said. "If newspapers allow opinion into their news columns, what differentiates them from the blather of the blog?" (Thomson is perhaps a bit overfond of alliteration: At other points in his speech, he used the phrases "digital dalliance," "hub of humanity," "incoherent incantations" and "moribund media," to cite just a few examples.)
Friendly Advice to a New Foe
In New York, the Journal will try to lure disaffected Times readers away with its new section, called Greater New York. If it succeeds, Thomson said, the paper will attempt to replicate the feat in other cities. What it won't do, he said, is imitate the Times's new practice of teaming up with local institutions like New York University in news gathering partnerships. "It is inappropriate for a serious newspaper to subcontract its content," he said. "The risk to reputation is too great."
Fighting words indeed. But it was the usually staid Times that got in the first digs this time in the form of an internal memo that Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and President Janet Robinson sent to the paper's staffers addressing the Journal's push into local news.
"After 120 years of existence, The Wall Street Journal this morning has finally decided to cover New York north of Wall Street," they wrote. "So as our welcome gift to New York, we pass on a few helpful hints to our Journal colleagues: the Dodgers now play in Los Angeles, Soho is the acronym for South of Houston, Fashion Week has moved to Lincoln Center, Idlewild is now JFK and Cats is no longer playing on Broadway."
"If you happen to know anyone who works for the Journal's new section and he or she wants any additional information about the greater New York region, tell them to check out NYTimes.com's always very helpful archive."
WSJ Launches New York Section. Let the Newspaper War Begin!