“Our way of the highway” seems to have been one reported reaction from Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker to concerns from staff about the tenor of the paper’s coverage of Donald Trump and his administration overnight. Baker addressed staff at the Journal’s New York office and took questions from the floor. Reports in Politico and The Huffington Post suggest Baker was both defensive and aggressive in a 30-minute opening address and subsequent answers. He in fact accused anyone claiming the Journal or he had gone soft on Trump of peddling “fake news”, which is an interesting reaction in itself given the way Donald Trump uses the phrase so glibly when confronted with news he doesn’t like.

The staff concerns have been heightened by media reports in the last week or so revealing the closeness of Trump and the News Corp co-chair Rupert Murdoch. Especially worrying was the Financial Times revelation last week that Murdoch had sat in on an interview last month with Trump conducted by a journalist from The Times in London (another News Corp paper) and Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling paper, and not owned by News or Murdoch. (You have to wonder what the management at Axel Springer, Bild’s owners, felt about Murdoch’s participation in the interview).

Politico reported:

“Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerry Baker on Monday mounted a vigorous defense of his newspaper’s Donald Trump coverage, pushing back aggressively on months of internal criticism that the venerable broadsheet has been too soft on the real estate mogul and reality television star turned 45th President of the United States.

“During a more than 30-minute opening address, according to people who were present, Baker said that anyone who claims the Journal has been soft on Trump is peddling ‘fake news,’ and that employees who are unhappy with the Journal’s Trump coverage should work somewhere else. He also read out a list of Trump headlines that he offered as evidence the Journal’s coverage has been sufficiently strong and critical.”

The Huffington Post reported

“Baker suggested staffers unhappy with the Journal’s coverage should go elsewhere, according to sources. David Enrich, a Wall Street Journal editor, tweeted after the meeting that Baker was broadly speaking about ‘staffers unhappy with our approach – i.e. objective rather than oppositional.’ Some staffers viewed Baker’s remarks on going elsewhere as less an ultimatum and more his reiterating the paper’s long-held standards for fairness.'”

One interesting side issue (at the moment) was the continuing impact of the paper’s continuing cost cutting and revamp (late last year) on staff morale. Baker revealed about 200 people had been let go recently from Dow Jones Co, the News Corp unit that owns the Journal, through contract buyouts and retrenchments. He told the meeting no further cuts were planned. The 200 figure is around double what has been so far reported. Around half of that figure are said to be journalists and support staff at the Journal, with the remainder being production and back-office staff. From the reports overnight, the tensions that has created seems to have been a driver behind some of the coverage criticism from the newsroom. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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