'WSJ' Publisher Promises 'Honest' Journalism

By: E&P Staff In a letter to readers today, L. Gordon Crovitz, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, asks them -- and media critics -- to cast aside doubts about news coverage coming from the paper under the expected new ownership of Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. He calls claims that his conservative political views will adjust coverage a "bias" of its own.

Critics have also charged that Murdoch's business interests may influence coverage, and some say that his political views have caused unbalanced coverage at some of his news outlets, including Fox News.

Excerpts follow.


What would a sale mean to the Journal and, most importantly, to readers? You will make the ultimate judgment, but the talented and committed journalists who produce the Journal have a simple plan. They will aim to do what they have done for more than a century: Earn and keep the trust of the world's most demanding readers by delivering the most essential news and analysis ...

Readers can rely on this: The same standards of accuracy, fairness and authority will apply to this publication, regardless of ownership. Our reporters and editors feel an especially strong obligation because the Journal, from the beginning, redefined financial and business journalism ...

Why do we consider the integrity of business and financial journalism to be even more important than for many forms of general-interest news?

Our readers must be able to trust that our facts are right. Livelihoods depend on it, and capital is deployed because of it. Even beyond that, our readers must also be able to trust that the analysis, perspective and context we apply to facts -- forms of interpretive journalism our readers expect, but few beyond the Journal can practice -- reflect only the honest assessment of our journalists. Readers equally must trust that our opinions, agree or disagree, reflect only the honest view of Journal editorial writers, rooted in a consistent set of principles that the Journal has adhered to for decades.

Any buyer of Dow Jones knows that the foundation of value is the trust of readers in the brands and the journalism. Indeed, the first topic discussed by News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch with the Bancroft family in their negotiations was the importance of accurate and independent journalism. Mr. Murdoch told the Bancrofts that "any interference -- or even hint of interference -- would break the trust that exists between the paper and its readers, something I am unwilling to countenance. Apart from breaching the public's trust, it would simply be bad business."

To this end, News Corp. and the Bancrofts agreed on standards modeled on the long-standing Dow Jones Code of Conduct. These include:

? Facts are accurate and fairly presented;

? Analyses represent the publications' best independent judgments rather than their preferences, or those of their owner, sources, advertisers or information providers;

? Opinions represent only the applicable publication's own editorial philosophies centered around the core principle of "free people and free markets";

? There are no hidden agendas in any journalist undertakings; and

? Accuracy and fairness extends to coverage of any real or perceived business interests of News Corp.

A special committee will be charged with helping ensure that these standards apply to all Dow Jones publications and services. The top editors of the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, who will remain in their jobs under terms of the agreement, issued a statement in response:

"Generations of Wall Street Journal editors and reporters have had a covenant with our readers to provide fair and accurate reporting on the many subjects we cover every day. Our priority as editors is earning and keeping the trust of the world's most demanding readers by delivering the most essential news and analysis.

"We are grateful to the Bancroft and Murdoch families for their agreement endorsing the principle of editorial independence that has long been the hallmark of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. We recognize that the best assurances of independence are reporters and editors committed to following news where the facts lead and to expressing opinions based on consistent principles. We want to assure our readers that we will remain as committed to those values under new ownership as we have been for more than a century."

While the importance of the continued integrity of our journalism cannot be overstated, some of the concerns raised about the acquisition have been illegitimate -- and could wrongly impugn the Journal. One is the notion that somehow ownership could be separated from control. As owner, Mr. Murdoch will be fully accountable for the company, from the credibility of its brands to its financial performance. This is a strong protection for readers because it's the reputation of our journalism that drives so much of the value of Dow Jones.

Also, some of the criticism of News Corp. has suggested that honest journalism cannot be done with an owner whose political views are often considered to be conservative. This reflects a bias of its own that I hope readers of all political views will reject.

The acquisition by News Corp. could herald an era of increased opportunity and growth. Mr. Murdoch's 65% premium for Dow Jones shares is evidence that the most trusted, authoritative and differentiated news brands and journalism have more and not less value in today's information-overloaded world. Business models for news media are under pressure. Once-distinguished news brands have disappeared, and many others are challenged....

As successful as we've been making the transition to digital media, the Journal could have even more potential as part of News Corp., which could provide greater distribution globally, including via broadcasting, cable and satellite operations. There could be investment to add Journal news and opinion coverage, accelerate product innovation across print and online and help us play the leading role outside the U.S. that we have long played in our home market.

In short, readers should expect what they have always expected from the Journal. In an era when reliable, accurate and knowledgeable business news and information is more valuable than ever, the highest standards are good journalism and good business. My colleagues and I hope that as part of a larger company we can extend our journalism more broadly, to serve more readers better. We also hope that our new owners will challenge us always to pursue the great ambition of founders Dow and Jones for the Journal: "In all things first, and in many things alone."


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