Commentary

'Wall Street Journal' Pullback From NYC Coverage May Magnify 'News Desert'

For decades, New York City has been considered the media capital of the world. But that doesn't necessarily mean people want to read about it. The latest sign that Gotham is becoming a "news desert" is The Wall Street Journal'sreported plans to shutter its "Greater New York" section.

Matt Murray, the EIC of the WSJ, yesterday sent an email to staff announcing the paper would stop publishing the section on July 9, according to a tweet by Max Tani, media reporter for the Daily Beast. The email asked staff to apply for other newsroom jobs, and also said it would launch a "Speed and Trending" desk for breaking news.

Murray didn't respond to PI's emailed request for comment about the move. I suspect local news coverage wasn't a big money maker for the WSJ, and the pandemic's negative effect on the city's economy only hastened the section's demise.
When the paper created the section for local coverage in 2010, observers saw it as an attempt by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. to take on The New York Times. The media magnate had acquired WSJ publisher Dow Jones three years earlier for $5 billion, stoking fears he would compromise its journalism with sensationalist reporting.
The NYT looked vulnerable as advertisers cut their spending on newspapers. The publisher in 2009 raised $250 million from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and tried selling off The Boston Globe. The NYT ended up holding on to the Globe for several more years before selling the paper for a billion-dollar loss.
When the WSJ launched "Greater New York," the former NYT publisher Arthur Sulzberger and president Janet Robinson sent an email to staff that mocked its new rival, saying the WSJ "finally decided to cover New York north of Wall Street." The email also touted the NYT's strength in the local market.
The WSJ continued to support the New York section throughout the years. In 2015, the paper redesigned "Greater New York" and broadened its coverage of arts and culture, education, politics and crime and courts. In announcing the expansion, former EIC Gerard Baker touted scoops like exclusive coverage of George Washington Bridge lane closures and board clashes at Carnegie Hall.
That kind of coverage isn't going to generate mass readership like coverage of politics and big business. It's not clear whether the WSJ decided to shut down the section after conducting an internal audit last year. The review was said to evaluate its coverage and audience engagement as part of a plan to increase readership and paid subscriptions.
The WSJ's shutdown of its "Greater New York" section reminds me of a Columbia study last year that suggested the region was becoming a "news desert." The world's media capital isn't immune to the problems facing local news outlets across the United States.
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2 comments about "'Wall Street Journal' Pullback From NYC Coverage May Magnify 'News Desert'".
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  1. Michael Schiferl from IPG, June 18, 2021 at 11:46 a.m.

    Makes sense given the WSJ readers are not primarily in NYC and ample other sources for local NYC news. (Any more than NYT also ditched their "local" coverage sections/editions for non-NYC area readers years ago too). While there's long been newsroom cutbacks in many local newspapers, there's a paradigm emerging as there's been an absolute boom in local news expansion in recent years. From local TV adding more hours of newscasts to sheer explosion of new local and hyperlocal news models, outlets, local non-profit journalism, tech industry funding for local news, to other national outlets (i.e. Axios) creating many local editions, attention to local news is seeing a resurgence.  It isn't just old model of dominant newspapers however, and most media (including "newspapers') inherently multi-media too.  Pew Research and others note local news is a primary go-to source, particularly true during COVID, and local has higher trust from public. As ad dollars turned into digital dimes and now media outlets increasingly look to non-ad funding sources and subscription models, a new challenge of news access is emerging due to more common paywalls.                 

  2. Robert Williams from Mediapost replied, June 18, 2021 at 12:55 p.m.

    Michael,
    Thanks for the comments! I should have mentioned more about the NYT's changes to local coverage, too:

    Times Plans to Combine Sections of the Paper
    https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/06/business/media/06times.html

    Rob

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