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Inside the Fight for the Future of The Wall Street Journal

  • April 10, 2021

Change in any news organization is hard. When Mr. Murdoch bought the paper in 2007, the newsroom was on tenterhooks, worried he would destroy its culture. That didn’t happen. Instead, he expanded its coverage to compete more directly with The Times. But over time, the paper has retrenched. Now it’s more of a chimera; part punchy Murdoch, part old-school Journal.

News Corp, the parent company of Dow Jones, the publisher of The Journal, has put pressure on the paper to double the number of subscribers. But to meet that goal, it must “reach a sustained 100 million monthly unique visitors” by June 2024, according to the report, noting that its site has never attracted more than 50 million readers in a given month.

Dow Jones disputed that figure, saying that the site averaged about 55 million, with a peak of 79 million last March. (The Journal temporarily gave readers free access to its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic when it hit the United States more than a year ago.)

Earnings filings show The Journal had 2.46 million digital-only subscribers at the end of 2020, including 106,000 who came aboard in the year’s final quarter.

Early last year, as Ms. Story’s team was months away from making its recommendations, Mr. Murray was sanguine that its eventual report would be well received by Will Lewis, who was then the Dow Jones chief executive and The Journal’s publisher, according to several people who worked in the newsroom. But last spring Mr. Lewis suddenly stepped down. He was replaced in both jobs by Mr. Latour, who had won praise within the company for his digital know-how as the publisher of Dow Jones’s Barron’s Group.

Mr. Murray was not happy to learn of Mr. Latour’s appointment, according to five people with knowledge of the matter. That’s when his attitude toward the strategy team’s efforts changed, the people said.

They added that Mr. Murray was concerned that the group’s report, coupled with the staff unrest, would be taken as an indictment of his leadership, and that Mr. Latour might use its findings against him. The document called out Mr. Murray in one instance in which it observed that the traffic goals have “not been articulated well enough in the newsroom,” and added, “Unless Matt is abandoning that goal, it needs to be announced and explained robustly.”

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