Is the FT eclipsing the WSJ as the definitive business paper?

  • Share
  • Read Later

A reader (who used to work for the Wall Street Journal) suggests that I write a piece on:

How the FT has eclipsed the Journal as the definitive paper on financial markets, globalization, etc. While the Journal still gets the occasional scoops – yesterday’s SEC piece on Chris Cox was quite good – I find that for day-to-day coverage I get infinitely more from the FT than the Journal. And I don’t see evidence Murdoch is looking to correct this. In fact, I’ve heard that there’s some discussion internally of changing the name of the paper to simply “The Journal” so that it will not be seen as simply a business paper.

I think this is actually a development that can be blamed as much on Barney Kilgore as on Rupert Murdoch. Kilgore, who effectively ran the show at the WSJ from 1941 until his death in 1967, made the Journal the great newspaper it is today. He did so by moving away from reporting yesterday’s news to focus on more on trends and investigations and stories that were just good reads. And he did so by editing those stories for the general reader, not the business-obsessed. Which is what made it possible for the Journal to grow from a small New York financial newspaper to a national institution with circulation in the millions.

Now, though, there is an audience of hundreds of thousands of affluent, sophisticated, globalization-and-finance-obsessed readers in the U.S. who want blow-by-blow reporting of the news they deem important, and don’t need everything explained to them. The Financial Times serves them far better than the WSJ–which despite lots of changes over the years still retains much of that Kilgore DNA.

Murdoch presumably sees this, but figures he doesn’t want to shrink his audience by making the paper more like the FT. He also presumably sees that lots of big-city papers that once tried to cover the nation and the world are no longer doing so, meaning that there might be a big audience-in-waiting for a national general-interest paper that isn’t the New York Times or USA Today. He may be wrong about this, but it doesn’t seem like a crazy bet.

Another issue here is that the FT uses its opinion pages mainly to analyze issues of interest to business readers. The WSJ editorialistas, meanwhile, see themselves as the voice of conservative America, and devote a shockingly small percentage of their space to business and financial topics. All that and Martin Wolf–the Commentator-in-Chief of the Credit Crisis of 2007 and 2008TM–works for the FT.