WSJ Harmonization Watch: An Ongoing Series

By James Fallows

Thumbnail image for JobHeadlines.pngFor background, please see these three past items: first (illustrated at right), second, and third. They compare the play and headlines of stories in three major papers -- the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal -- and together suggest what was to me a surprising conclusion. Namely, that the WSJ's news coverage, which for decades has seemed independent from the Journal's editorial pages, is increasingly conforming with the editorial line. My China-beat buddies will recognize the term "harmonization" for this reining-in of unauthorized views.

  • Hypothesis: Under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch and the editorship of Robert Thomson, the Journal is deliberately bringing its news operations into closer alignment with its editorial views.

  • Sub-hypothesis: You don't see this shift in the line-by-line content of the stories themselves but rather in the headlines, subheads, and placement of the stories in the paper. That is, we're looking at editors' work rather than reporters'. 
Being hypotheses, these are subject to testing and disproof. Toward the end of testing hypotheses, here is an interesting new data point.The first paragraph in a WSJ  news story this weekend describes how the Obama administration is planning its next term:

WSJPlot.png

The headline for this story uses a different verb to describe what the administration is up to.

HarmonizatPlot.png

The reporters write "plan," the editors say "plot" -- it's sort of the same, but not really. We'll see how the evidence adds up over time.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/wsj-harmonization-watch-an-ongoing-series/267358/