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05.01.10

Newspaper Wars: The Times vs. The Journal, Winning the Week

After assessing a full week of how the Wall Street Journal’s new Greater New York Section fared against the Gray Lady, Harold Evans weighs in on who won the opening week of America’s hottest print battle.

After assessing a full week of how the Wall Street Journal’s new Greater New York Section fared against the Gray Lady, Harold Evans weighs in on who won the opening week of America’s hottest print battle. Plus, read his scoring of Day 5, Day 4, Day 3, Day 2, and Day 1.

Who won in the assault on the citadel of The New York Times by Rupert Murdoch’s new stand-alone Greater New York section of his Wall Street Journal? The readers of both papers and websites in the greater metropolitan area. (That includes people in parts of Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey, if not the perennially neglected residents of the boroughs across the East River.) We now get the benefit of the competition in stories and pictures we might otherwise never have had. I speak as a resident of Manhattan, who also reads the Daily News and Post—i.e., as a true news junkie.

We now get the benefit of the competition in stories and pictures we might otherwise never have had.

At The Daily Beast’s invitation, I scored the papers in detail for five days on criteria I selected (basically coverage of New York, writing, design, organization, and width of appeal). Murdoch and Journal editor Robert Thomson gave plenty of notice that they were bent on mischief, but it seemed to me the Times Editor Bill Keller took the challenge too casually. The appeal of the separate section in the Journal is its organization, making it easier for readers to find their way around the paper, but the Times stayed with its traditional design. It made no apparent effort to give coherence to its New York pages floating somewhere in the first section and plagued, as is the rest of the paper, by a predilection for continuing on another page: One day the seeker of New York news was required to leapfrog over the Op-Ed pages. The Journal made imaginative use of its space, especially with its Heard and Scene page of the social life of the city. But the skimpiness of its sports and arts coverage compared poorly with the separate sections in the Times. The Journal pages showed flair in the compressed space, but the Times scored a home run every day with its separate sections.

The launch has been a success for the Journal. On my Day 1 scoring, the paper opened up a big lead on the Times—but it could not maintain it for the reasons I gave in my daily reports. As the week went by, Keller caught up and then overtook the Journal’s Thomson.

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My guess is that Murdoch may well regard the investment in Greater New York as a promising if flawed template for sections in other metropolitan regions of the U.S.; it seemed well-supported by advertisers. At a horrible time for print, this approach might help the Journal maintain its new position as the No. 1 newspaper in the country. Against an accelerating double-digit decline in newspaper circulation, the Journal sales over six months registered an increase of 0.6 percent, holding more than two million readers if you include the 400,000 digital-only subscribers.

The Times, combating a five percent fall in print circulation, has much to do, but it would be wise to more happily marry design and organization to the general excellence of its editorial content.

Harold Evans, author of two histories of America, just published his memoir, My Paper Chase. Editor at large of The Week, he was editor of The Sunday Times from 1967-81 and The Times from 1981-82, founding editor of Condé Nast Traveler, and president of Random House Trade Group from 1990-97.