As the Wall Street Journal plans to launch its new 10-page metro edition today, with the admitted purpose of competing directly with the New York Times, analysts everywhere are asking why.
The Journal's metro launch will cost it $30 million over the next two years, and the paper is not particularly prized by locals for its New York city coverage. But this move comes as an obvious extension of what has been an ongoing battle against the New York Times since Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought Dow Jones, the WSJ's parent company, in 2007.
Both publications have traded words, with the Times publishing an article written by media reporter David Carr that was critical of the Journal's perceived lean to the right under Murdoch. In response, the Journal's managing editor Robert Thomson told New York magazine that one of the "personnel moves at the New York Times that...make(s) them vulnerable" was that "(Chairman of the board Arthur) Sulzberger remains in place."
The Journal later ran a picture of the lower half of Sulzberger's face as an accompaniment to an article about feminine-looking women, and Murdoch was quoted last year as criticizing the Times' reduced metro coverage in an attempt to cut costs.
"We believe that in its pursuit of journalism prizes and a national reputation, a certain other New York daily has essentially stopped covering the city the way it once did," he said. The Wall Street Journal has not earned a Pulitzer in the past three years, whereas the Times won three this year.
In response, the Times lured arts reporter Kate Taylor, who had been working on the draft version of the Journal's metro section, away from the Journal, and also snagged the newspaper's public relations head Bob Christie. It has also launched an aggressive ad campaign across the city, emphasizing its preferred status in the city--the Times has 44 percent of its circulation in New York city to the Journal's 15 percent--and its stronger metro reporting staff, with almost twice as many metro reporters as the Journal's 35.
The new metro section of the Wall Street Journal will offer readers color pictures and coverage of local sports, politics, real estate and events. It is also offering reduced advertising prices in hopes to poach some upscale advertisers from the New York Times, but the Times has expressed its unwillingness to engage in a price war.
But Murdoch has engaged in aggressive price wars in the past, and former owner of the Daily Telegraph Conrad Black told the Guardian that "the New York Times may struggle to 'absorb the kind of price-cutting and profligate expenses Murdoch will pour on.'" The launch of the Journal's metro section could hit the Times particularly hard now, as the publication struggles to pay down $650 million worth of debt and hold on to circulation that decreased over 7 percent in the past year.
The battle between the two publications is likely to go on long after the Journal's metro launch, as Murdoch aims to transform his publication from a specialized paper to the premier general interest news source in the nation. The WSJ surpassed USA Today as the US' most widely-circulated publication last year, and with over 2 million subscribers to the NYT's approximate 950,000, the Journal is beginning to show dominance in the news world. But the true test will come as the two publications are pitted against each other in their home turf, with each likely to continue throwing punches until one goes down for the count.