This publication is much more than just the voice of Wall Street.
Editors at the Wall Street Journal like to joke that the main reason the paper loses subscribers is because they die. There is a grain of truth to this rather flippant remark, as the 3.4 million subscribers to the business paper, which was founded in 1889, are considered extremely loyal. The downside of this strong relationship is that the majority of Wall Street Journal readers are male and older, and are thus by no means representative of the general American population. As a result, the paper faces a predicament despite being profitable. It has therefore set itself ambitious growth targets and wants to shed its image of being Wall Street’s mouthpiece.
But the WSJ, as the publication is often referred to, has long ceased to be just a printed version of the stock market ticker. In fact, no more than three pages in the second section of the English-language newspaper, which is published from Monday to Saturday, are devoted to the markets. These stock market reports are book-ended by razor-sharp analyses (Heard on the Street), dry company news and news from the world of consumer electronics.
The heart of the newspaper, however, is the first section, which features a mixture of political news, economic reports, commentaries and everyday stories. The latter are what make the Wall Street Journal so appealing. It is there that columnist Rachel Feintzeig, for example, offers advice for jaded workers who dread returning to the office. Or that Elizabeth Bernstein writes about sleep problems and anxiety. These are articles for women and men who have both feet planted firmly in their jobs.
But the highlight of daily WSJ reading is A-hed, which for nearly 80 years, has been the name assigned to a front-page article devoted to a bizarre topic that would normally have no place in a daily newspaper. An A-hed published last spring, for example, ran under the headline: “The Majestic Bald Eagle is Back – And Wants to Eat Your Little Dog.” The article featured a stipple drawing of America’s national emblem. For many years, such drawings were characteristic of the Wall Street Journal, in part because photos were a rarity until the early 2000s for technical reasons.
To the outside world, however, the WSJ is not seen as a paper for those seeking advice, but rather as the pinnacle of American-style capitalism. This fact can be attributed to 90-year-old Rupert Murdoch and 65-year-old Paul Gigot.
The Australian-born Murdoch has owned the daily since 2007, when he bought it from the Bancroft family. And although the worst fears about the new ownership did not materialize, Murdoch has nevertheless put his stamp on the paper. For example, under his supervision, it has become more news-heavy, and in-depth analyses are now the exception rather than the rule. The paper also devotes less space than its competitors to sociopolitical issues, such as the debate about systemic racism.
Gigot, on the other hand, has overseen the daily’s three opinion pages for the last 20 years. These are usually published at the end of the first section of the Wall Street Journal and are a combination of unsigned opinion pieces, columns by well-known authors such as Peggy Noonan and guest contributions. Most of these pieces share a common view: government is bad, private enterprise is good. Every once in a while, a new voice stirs up this mishmash of right-wing opinions; but Gigot does not tolerate pluralism on his pages. Sometimes, this strict regime results in internal disagreements. Last June, for example, WSJ reporters complained about an opinion piece by then-Vice President Mike Pence in which he claimed that the US was not facing a second wave of coronavirus infections.
And everyone knows how that turned out. Gigot, the award-winning opinion maker, was unmoved, however. In an (unsigned) opinion piece, he wrote that the newsroom and opinion pages work highly independently of one another. And he stated that there is no room for conformity or intolerance on his pages – because he does not want to bend in order to attract new readers.
Photocredit: Coverpicture Alamy Stock Photo / Chris Batson