December 4, 2020

Wall Street Journal Staff Members Push for Big Changes in News Coverage

Staff members of The Wall Street Journal have been pressing newsroom leaders to make fundamental changes in how the newspaper covers race, policing, and its primary focus, the business world, along with other matters.

In a June 23 letter to the editor in chief, Matt Murray, a group identifying itself only as “members of the WSJ newsroom” said the paper must “encourage more muscular reporting about race and social inequities,” and laid out detailed proposals for revising its news coverage.

“In part because WSJ’s coverage has focused historically on industries and leadership ranks dominated by white men, many of our newsroom practices are inadequate for the present moment,” the letter said.

Among its proposals: Mr. Murray should appoint journalists to cover “race, ethnicity and inequality”; name two standards editors specializing in diversity; conduct a study of the race, ethnicity and gender breakdown of the subjects of The Journal’s “most prominent and resource-intensive stories”; and bring more diversity to the newsroom and leadership positions.

Speaking more broadly, the letter questioned whether The Journal put too much stock in business leaders and government officials.

ImageMatt Murray was named the editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal in 2018.
Credit…Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

“Reporters frequently meet resistance when trying to reflect the accounts and voices of workers, residents or customers, with some editors voicing heightened skepticism of those sources’ credibility compared with executives, government officials or other entities,” the letter said. “We should apply the same healthy skepticism toward everyone we cover.”

On Friday, Kamilah M. Thomas, chief people officer with Dow Jones, the publisher of The Journal, sent an internal email announcing the recent creation of a new position of senior vice president of inclusion and people management as well as other initiatives that, she said, are part of “a comprehensive review of diversity, equity and inclusion across our business.”

The Journal is one of many media organizations, including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times and Condé Nast, where staff members have questioned leadership at a time of widespread protests against racism and police brutality prompted by the killing in May of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck.

Confrontations between staff members and newsroom leaders have been rare at the 131-year-old publication, which became part of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in 2007. It has one of the country’s largest newsrooms, employing about 1,300.

The June 23 letter was sent to Mr. Murray, who succeeded Gerard Baker as editor in chief two years ago, through the news committee of the employee union and came from discussions on a private channel on the interoffice communications app Slack, according to two people with knowledge of how it came about. It was at least the third instance of formal communication in recent weeks between the staff and Journal leaders.

On June 12, more than 150 journalists sent a letter to Journal leaders saying the paper’s coverage of race was “problematic” and that its staff was not diverse enough, The Journal reported in an article on newsroom revolts across the country.

The week before that, the union representing Journal reporters and editors sent a letter requesting that Mr. Baker, who stayed on in the news department as a columnist, be reassigned to the opinion section, which is operated separately from the newsroom. Faulting columns Mr. Baker had written on race, that letter said his work had violated newsroom standards. Mr. Baker was moved to the opinion staff the day after the letter was sent.

One of the proposals in the June 23 letter concerned changes to The Journal’s stylebook. “Review the terminology used across WSJ content, including editorial, to refer to various identity groups and compare with latest industry standards,” it suggested.

The following week, The Journal announced that it would capitalize “Black” when referring to members of the African diaspora. Several other news organizations have made the same decision in recent weeks, including The Associated Press and The Times.

On Thursday, Mr. Murray announced in an email to the staff that Brent W. Jones, an associate managing editor, who is Black, had been promoted to the top echelon of newsroom leadership to fill a newly created role, editor of culture, training and outreach.

In the note, which was obtained by The Times, Mr. Murray said Mr. Jones was “passionate about improving newsroom culture, diversity and inclusion, talent development, training — and the social value and importance of fair, high-quality news and information.”

Mr. Murray added, “His voice and experience, which have been especially helpful to me as I focus more of my time on diversity and outreach, will enliven and advance our continuing efforts.”