Is This What a Newspaper War Looks Like?

I am a longtime reader of (and contributor to) the New York Times who also happens to love reading The Wall Street Journal, and I live in New York City. So yesterday was a particularly noteworthy day, for the Journal launched its long-anticipated “Greater New York” section.

If we are to believe the billions of preemptive articles written on this topic (journalists care deeply about stories about journalism, though practically no one else does), the Journal‘s metro section was designed by owner Rupert Murdoch as a direct assault on the Times‘s metro section in order to steal the hearts and minds of readers and the ad dollars of New York advertisers.

Business concerns aside, I am personally happy to have more quality journalism about the city where I live. (And more jobs for journalist friends: the Journal is one of the few — the only? — newspapers to do any serious hiring during the recent falling-off-the-cliff era.) I have no idea how this newspaper war will play out, or, frankly, if it even is a “newspaper war.” New York City is a huge, influential, and unique market, and there’d be all kinds of reasons for the Journal to have strong New York coverage (just as it makes sense for the Times to have strong business coverage) even if Murdoch didn’t care at all about warring with the Times.

But reading yesterday’s inaugural Greater New York section of the Journal, I couldn’t help but think that the stories are indeed true.

Why?

It’s not that the Journal directly attacked the Times in any way. But in terms of story selection, the Journal‘s psyche seemed curiously illuminating: article after article (good ones, too) about two competitors slugging it out, quintessential “winning and losing” stories, with the implicit message that we live in a winner-take-all world. Among the articles:

  • An apparent “pasta war” between two new chains coming to New York, Hello Pasta and Nooi.
  • Friction between the New York Jets and New York Giants, who have a new shared stadium. (Oddly, the Journal put a photo of running back Thomas Jones on the section front to represent the Jets, but he was released this off-season and now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.)
  • The “longstanding tensions” between the New York Police Department and the Port Authority police, especially when it comes to detaining terror suspects. (Very good article, btw.)
  • An “auction house turf war,” with newcomer Phillips de Pury & Co. hoping to steal clients from established heavyweights Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

Conflict is of course central to news coverage, and a heightened sense of competition is what makes many of us love New York. Even when a game isn’t truly zero-sum, it can be exciting to pretend it is. But if the Journal ever writes up a story about how my kids fight over the Wii remote, I’ll know it’s gone too far.

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  1. PaulD says:

    I guess out here in Los Angeles they don’t give us the whole paper, because I haven’t received any new section! Maybe an LA Metro section is in the works…

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  2. DonO says:

    Actually, I thought the article about the NYPD vs. Port Authority Police was a prime example of Murdochean sensationalism. An eye catching headline, but when you bore down, you see that there is no real issue.

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  3. Terry says:

    Its spelled “Wiimote.”

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  4. Chuck says:

    Including a photo of Jones reeks of sloppy editing and fact-checking. That, more than anything else, makes me likely to dismiss the Journal‘s local coverage.

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  5. Jeffrey says:

    This sounds like it’s the Murdoch/cable news “us” vs. “them” model, where there’s always two sides–and ONLY two sides–to any story, thus creating conflict and winning readers. It’s bipolar, binary, and lame.

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  6. sociologist at-large says:

    Dear Jeffrey;

    As in “lame duck.” Actually, three sides is real proper. Let us not forget the middle ground or in-between. My guess, the journal wants a piece of the action. The Times has been ahead of the game for a while. Competition has good side to it when there is a “mutual orientation of activities.” I know from experience.

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  7. Alvaro Fernandez Ravelo says:

    NY Times ahead of the game? NY Times loses money and News Corporation is profitable.

    Everybody has an agenda, except me. – Michael Crichton

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  8. Peter says:

    This is indeed A Good Thing. More choice is good. The Wall Street Journal is addressing demand for an unmet market niche – Metro NYC coverage that has a conservative bent and one that is more high brow than the tabloids, i.e. Post & Daily News. It is a nice compliment to the more liberal appealing New York Times.

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