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WSJ's Josh Prager Departs; Questions News Corp. Stewardship Of Paper On His Way Out The Door

The Wall Street Journal?? Josh Prager is leaving the paper, and he just sent out an email informing colleagues of his decision.

Prager is likely best known for his Journal front-page story and subsequent book on how the New York Giants were stealing signs from the Brooklyn Dodgers during the game Booby Thomson hit his shot heard round the world. Today, Prager departs with a shot that will be heard around ?? well, at least around media- and Murdoch-obsessed precincts. Memo after the jump, all emphases mine:

From: Prager, Josh

Sent: Friday, April 03, 2009 2:59 PM

To: WSJ All News Staff


After almost 13 years at this paper, it's time for me to say goodbye.

I started here as a news assistant. I handed out the sked, answered

phone calls and screamed "Goodnight Pittsburgh!" in the middle of the

newsroom when a bureau sought permission to head home for the evening.

Late nights, I headed to 43rd Street and relayed by phone the headlines

of a warm New York Times.

I was in awe of all around me. I parroted their beautifully-worded

observations and read their beautifully-written stories. (Jim White

steered me toward Horwitz, Kotlowitz, Suskind, et al.) And I dreamed of

writing one of those wonderful 300-word quirks that ran in the

lower-left corner of the second-front.

It took me about 30 days to write my first orphan, a word/day ratio I

would never much improve. I found mentors whose instructions (activate

verbs, simplify language, etc.) I taped to my desk. I began to write

features, many of which concerned the three worlds I knew

best--disability, Judaism and baseball.

The paper made me a reporter and sent me to Atlanta to cover small

business financing. I struggled, writing columns mined from The Wall

Street Journal Guide to Understanding Money & Investing. But when I

wrote a leder about the children's book Goodnight Moon, I at last found

my niche-revealing secrets tied somehow to the historical. And over the

coming years, the paper extended to me an ever-lengthening leash that

let me write what had not been known about a famous home run, photograph

and missing Swede.

I knew how lucky I was. At times, I was embarrassed by my good fortune

and worked hard to feel I merited it.

Perhaps unavoidably, things changed. Soon after News Corp. began to

court the Bancrofts, Rupert Murdoch stated that our front-page stories

were too long while Robert Thomson said some had the "gestation of a

llama." Mine certainly did. The paper and I were no longer a good fit.

I knew that newspapers were dying daily, that the future of long-form

journalism was at risk. And I knew how lucky I was to still have my job.

But as my recent story on Raoul Wallenberg was cut from the three parts

we'd agreed upon to two to one, I also knew that it was time for me to

leave the paper, particularly once I learned that some in management had

expressed the same opinion.

Onward. I've applied for a journalism fellowship and plan on writing a

book about disability, about the 1990 bus accident that broke my neck

and initially left me a quadriplegic. I'm excited.

I will miss The Wall Street Journal and the incredible adventures it let

me take. I have loved working here and am forever grateful to the

endless folks at the paper who helped me at every turn and taught me

everything I know about journalism. They include Robin Haynes, Melinda

Beck, Mike Miller, Kevin Salwen, Hilary Stout, Dan Hertzberg, Cathy

Panagoulias, Paul Steiger, John Blanton and Mike Siconolfi. Thank you.

Among the many things I learned here was that reporters need to fight

for themselves. (I was honored, for example, to help see to it last year

that reporters do not owe a percentage of any book advance or sales to

the paper unless they enter into a voluntary marketing agreement with

the Journal.) And I hope that my incredible colleagues, despite their

understandable fears given the state of our industry, will find ways to

speak up when necessary. It is certainly in the interest of any business

to know what is on the minds of its employees and perhaps an anonymous

but public sounding board can be established by the union or the paper

itself. (It might also help do away with leaks.)

Further, the worship of byline and word counts and all that is "urgent"

has doubtless stifled the boundless creativity of the Journal staff. I

hope the paper will address this problem. Implementing some version of

the rule at 3M that lets employees spend 15 percent of their time on

"projects of their own choosing" would benefit morale and yield

wonderful stories.

Please keep in touch. You can reach me at [redacted].



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