Wall Street Journal, Its Newsroom Unsettled, Names a New Editor
Posted June 5, 2018 9:13 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2018 9:18 p.m. EDT
The Wall Street Journal named a new editor-in-chief on Tuesday, elevating Matthew J. Murray to the top spot at one of the country’s pre-eminent newspapers and bringing an end to the tenure of Gerard Baker, whose stewardship gave rise to unrest in the newsroom.
The British-born, Oxford-educated Baker, who led the broadsheet for 5 1/2 years, will remain at The Journal as a weekend columnist. He will also host live events and a Journal-themed show on the Fox Business Network, which, like the newspaper, is an arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
At The Journal, Baker oversaw a sharp rise in readership and an award-winning investigation that exposed fraudulent claims by the health care tech company Theranos. But he also faced apprehension among his staff.
Last year, at an all-hands meeting called to address concerns about coverage, Baker defended himself against accusations from reporters that the paper had gone easy on President Donald Trump, and suggested that other news organizations had become overly negative in their coverage.
He also encouraged unhappy newsroom employees to seek jobs elsewhere — an offer that many reporters and editors took him up on. During his tenure at The Journal, more than a dozen left for new jobs at The Washington Post and The New York Times.
News of Baker’s exit Tuesday caught the newsroom by surprise: No announcement was made to the staff besides a formal news release issued by the Murdoch-owned News Corp., which purchased Dow Jones, the paper’s parent company, in 2007.
News Corp. declined to make Baker or Murray available for comment.
Some of the complaints about Baker emanated from The Journal’s Washington bureau, which had bristled at his leadership role, given his past as an outspoken critic of President Barack Obama. Baker seemed friendlier toward Trump; during an Oval Office interview last year, the editor made small talk with the president about golf and greeted Ivanka Trump with a reminder that the two had socialized in the Hamptons a few weeks prior.
That Baker’s comments became public was itself a sign of internal discord: A transcript of the Oval Office interview, which Baker had conducted along with other Journal reporters, was leaked to a rival news outlet. Later, a leak of late-night emails from Baker — in which he admonished Journal reporters and editors for their coverage of a Trump rally — triggered a fresh round of newsroom consternation.
Baker, 56, who had worked at the Financial Times and The Times of London before joining The Journal, appeared unmoved by the complaints. He defended his newspaper’s political coverage as objective, rigorous and fairer to the new administration than that of its rivals. And it cannot be said that The Journal, during his watch, has not made Trump squirm: The paper has been at the forefront of reporting on payments involving the president and women who have said that they once had sexual relationships with him.
Four days before the 2016 presidential election, The Journal broke the news of a $150,000 payoff made by the company that owns The National Enquirer to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had a relationship with Trump. More recently, the paper has been aggressive in its coverage of Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Trump, and his payment of $130,000 to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels, who has said that she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006.
Baker’s replacement, Murray, is a 24-year veteran of Dow Jones and The Journal’s current executive editor. He will begin his new job Monday.
His first task is likely to be improving staff morale. The departures of top talent have been significant: Last month, three former Journal reporters received Pulitzer Prizes — for their work at The Washington Post. (Baker’s reporting crew received one Pulitzer during his tenure, for an investigation into health care data.)
A Washington native who was educated at Northwestern University, Murray, 52, will take charge of a newsroom during one of the most intense, and intensely scrutinized, news environments in recent history. He started at the company in 1994 and became The Journal’s banking reporter in 1997 before rising through the editing ranks. In 2013, he became a deputy to Baker.
He is the author of a “The Father and the Son: My Father’s Journey Into the Monastic Life,” which tells the story of his father, a former civil servant who entered a monastery. He is also a co-author, with former New York City fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen, of “Strong of Heart.”
“I have no doubt that Matt is a worthy successor as editor-in-chief and will be a leader of the highest commitment and integrity,” Robert Thomson, the chief executive of News Corp., said in a statement. “His strong reporting and editing background and his passion for The Journal are obvious to all who have the privilege of working with him.”
On Tuesday evening, Murray wrote on Twitter that he was “humbled and excited” about his new role. He added: “We’ve made great strides and are doing so much great work — and there is much more to come!”