Current and former staffers praised the selection of Murray, characterizing the Journal lifer as a steady hand and more affable presence in the newsroom than Baker, who could be seen as aloof. com/story/2017/08/01/trump-wall-street-journal-interview-full-transcript-241214″ target=”_blank”> to POLITICO of the transcript of a Journal interview with Trump in which Baker appeared especially chummy with the president and his daughter Ivanka.
When Gerard Baker was named editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal in 2012, owner Rupert Murdoch poured Champagne on his head during a lively newsroom celebration, with News Corp. chief Robert Thomson giddily clapping along.
The news Tuesday that Baker was stepping down, to be replaced by executive editor Matt Murray, was low key. Many staffers learned about it when the press release dropped. There were no similar newsroom festivities.
Nonetheless, it was an emotional moment for a newspaper that has struggled with a staff exodus and lack of confidence in its leadership. The dominant feeling in the Journal newsroom wasn’t Champagne-popping jubilation but relief. The elevation of Murray, a Journal mainstay for almost a quarter century, was greeted favorably among staff after a dramatic past couple years that’s included frustrations over Baker’s perceived unwillingness to go after Donald Trump boiling over publicly, along with high-level departures in New York and a mini-exodus from the Washington bureau.
Current and former staffers praised the selection of Murray, characterizing the Journal lifer as a steady hand and more affable presence in the newsroom than Baker, who could be seen as aloof.
“I think there’s a certain relief here,” one Journal staffer, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told POLITICO. “Matt’s not the lightning rod that Gerry was.”
Baker’s departure has been in the works for a few months, as News Corp. management has been discreetly looking for a replacement, according to people familiar with the matter. Murray, as second in command, was the most likely internal candidate, though there have long been expectations among current and former staffers that Murdoch would inevitably pluck someone from outside the paper.
After buying the Journal in 2007, Murdoch replaced veteran staffer Marcus Brauchli, who had only recently ascended to the paper’s top editing job, with Thomson, a fellow Australian who edited Murdoch’s Times of London and is also seen as the media mogul’s closest friend. He next promoted the British-born Baker, who had also worked at the Times of London before joining the Journal after the 2008 election. Baker’s move to the news side of the Journal raised eyebrows at the time given his conservative commentary in print and on Fox News.
Murray, by contrast, cut his teeth on bread and butter subject areas and is steeped in the paper’s culture. He first joined Dow Jones in 1994 as a Pittsburgh-based reporter before shifting three years later to cover banking for the Journal’s Money & Investing section. He became deputy managing editor in 2008 and continued rising through the ranks to, most recently, executive editor.
The selection of Murray comes as Murdoch’s empire is in flux. The media mogul is trying to complete a $52 billion deal with Disney for most of 21st Century Fox’s film and TV assets (except for news and sports networks). And son Lachlan was named CEO last month of Fox News. Rupert Murdoch, who is known to shake up his media entities, this time opted for a safe choice to succeed Baker.
Baker faced criticism internally over the paper’s Trump coverage, with staffers bristling at what they considered an excessively measured editorial approach that was ill-suited for this political moment, especially when reporting on Trump’s persistent falsehoods. As The New York Times and Washington Post revved up during the 2016 campaign, one source characterized the Journal’s reporting to POLITICO as “neutral to the point of being absurd.”
Baker’s post-election interventions, such as urging staff not to use the term “majority-Muslim” when describing countries to which Trump sought to tighten travel rules, went over poorly. Tensions came to a head in February 2017 when Baker defended the Journal’s coverage, telling staff that it was “fake news” to suggest they hadn’t been tough enough on Trump. But staff frustrations continued, with concerns over Baker’s involvement in editing a Trump rally dispatch, and the leaking to POLITICO of the transcript of a Journal interview with Trump in which Baker appeared especially chummy with the president and his daughter Ivanka.
The Journal has also scored some important exclusives on Trump, especially this year. The Journal first reported on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, buying her silence before the 2016 election. But the paper’s tough reporting on Trump over the Daniels matter was followed by another kerfuffle involving Baker, when staffers accused the editor of trying to suppress a graphic about the 2008 financial crisis because he felt it leaned too far left in its exploration of the causes and effects of the downturn.
While the appointment of Murray may serve as a clean slate, there’s understandably skepticism of how much change can occur given he served Baker’s number two and, in the end, still has to please Murdoch and Thomson, who remains CEO of the Journal’s parent company.
In stepping up to the top newsroom position, Murray said “there is little doubt that at a time when journalism faces a host of challenges, readers are hungry for sophisticated, fair, illuminating and fact-based journalism – and see us as a uniquely trusted news source.”
Baker will now shift to a commentary and public speaking role for which he seems well-suited. He is expected to write a column, participate in events, and host a new Journal-branded program on Fox Business, which is also part of Murdoch’s media empire.
In a statement, Baker said, “There has never been a more important time nor a greater demand for trusted, authoritative, objective journalism and I am very much looking forward to continuing to pursue that mission as a writer, commentator and interviewer.”
Baker said he was “honored to hand over the reins of this venerable institution to Matt Murray, an editor of unsurpassed quality and a trusted friend and colleague.”
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