In the highest-profile sign of change at The Wall Street Journal in the five months since Rupert Murdoch became its owner, Marcus Brauchli resigned his post on Apr. 22 as the top editor.
Brauchli, 46, had been managing editor, the Journal's top editorial position, for less than a year. He was named to his position, one of the world's most powerful in newspaper journalism, mere days before Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.'s (NWS) unsolicited bid for Wall Street Journal parent company Dow Jones became public.
It is expected that Robert Thomson, who was brought over from The Times of London, another News Corp. paper, as the Journal's publisher, will take over Brauchli's position temporarily. He could also retain the job permanently, according to people familiar with the matter.
So Much for the Special Committee
Another possible contender to fill the job permanently is Nik Deogun, currently the editor of the Journal's Money & Investing section. He is popular in the newsroom but also has close relationships with News Corp. executives from his days at the Journal writing and editing stories about the media business. Deogun declined to comment about or speculate over Brauchli's decision.
Brauchli's resignation is coming despite the formation of a "Special Committee" of five people that was intended to ensure the editorial independence of the WSJ under News Corp. ownership. That committee was empowered, by its charter, to have control over the "approval and removal" and "changes to the authority" of the Journal's managing editor. That document was hammered out between Dow Jones' former owners the Bancroft family and News Corp. It does not contain any variant of the word "resignation."
In a memo to his staff, Brauchli said now that the ownership transition has taken place, "I have come to believe the new owners should have a managing editor of their choosing." Brauchli will continue at News Corp. as a consultant. One of his first tasks may be helping Murdoch assess the viability of launching a business news channel for his STAR-TV property in Asia. Brauchli had spent years in Asia for the Journal.
Brauchli's departure will follow that of Gordon Crovitz, formerly the publisher of the Journal and an executive vice-president of Dow Jones. He left in December just before the deal with News Corp. closed. Also, in February, News Corp. dismissed former WSJ general counsel Stuart Karle, who was admired in the newsroom for his support of hard-hitting business stories and for ensuring they ended up in print.
Mediating Between the Old and New
Brauchli did not respond to telephone messages. Close associates said they were surprised at the timing of the news, if not at the news itself.
Brauchli had sought to mediate between the Journal's traditional mission and the expectations of his new bosses. At times, the strain showed. In a meeting held late last week with staffers in the Journal's San Francisco and Los Angeles bureaus, Brauchli appeared somber on the subject of his future at the newspaper. At one point he suggested when he left the Journal, he would not have the sort of pleasant retirement that his predecessor Paul Steiger had, which prompted one attendee to cry out, "Please don't leave us!"
The Journal is in a state of accelerated change under its new owners. News of Brauchli's resignation hit as the paper's editorial pages were expanded from two pages to three. Murdoch has been positioning the Journal as a competitor to The New York Times in key areas, such as politics, and a glossy luxury lifestyle magazine supplement is debuting soon. The paper has also curtailed lengthy, front-page business stories in favor of additional general interest news.