Critiquing the New Wall Street Journal

  • Share
  • Read Later
Before The Wall Street Journal's relaunch last week — the new version is dramatically narrower and creates several new departments — the paper's publisher, L. Gordon Crovitz, cleverly deflected any anticipated criticism, telling Editor & Publisher that he's "girded for the letters of complaints written with quills on parchment." In other words, if you don't like it, you just don't "get" it.

So as a no longer hip person and — and putting all my chips on the table here — an ex-Wall Street Journal reporter, I am plucking my quill, or dipping it, or whatever we did to adorn parchment back in the day. And declaring: the new Journal actually was pretty good in its debut last week. (More than anything, though, I'm glad the relaunch is over and done with. As much as I admire Gordon, I feel as if I've seen his bespectacled dot-drawn likeness an awful lot in recent weeks in the publisher's columns, telling me, the reader, how much I'm going to like the new Journal.)

Speaking visually, however, I can't say I prefer the new look. Not that veteran readers ever do, at least when redesigns are first launched. (Keep that in mind, Gordon, if you're called on to write's review of TIME's coming relaunch.) Shorn of a couple of inches of width (so long, sixth column), and with space for advertising carved out of the front page, the Journal now seems less serious, less vital, almost (gulp) optional.

But other readers will no doubt prefer the modern look, and the rest of us will get used to it soon enough. And it's undeniable that the paper has vastly improved its navigation. You could get lost in the old days, particularly in the depths of the first section, wading through business news, odd-lot foreign pieces and lengthy jumps from the first page. Now you pretty much know where you are, with clearly delineated page headings like The Economy, Leading the News, Politics & Economics. (There's even a page now that carries the rubric From Page One. Can't be clearer than that.)

And form hasn't crimped Journal substance. On Day 3 of the new era, last Thursday, the paper produced a smart pair of page one stories about the biggest business news story of the week: the flameout of Home Depot's CEO Robert Nardelli. A news piece chronicled Nardelli's demise and his troubled relationship with the Home Depot board, and a thoughtful Alan Murray analysis described how Nardelli fell out of touch with the demands today's CEOs routinely face. The pieces jointly dominated the top of page one; I didn't miss that phantom sixth column (whose absence, by the way, is saving the Journal an estimated $18 million a year).

There's also a new attempt at aggregation, which is all the rage (see, starting today). The Informed Reader, part of the Journal Exchange page in the Marketplace section, offers short takes from various external news sources. It builds on what the Journal has long done well: offering busy readers quick summaries of the most important news and business-news developments of the day. On Friday, for example, the Informed Reader presented an eclectic mix of abridged items from the Los Angeles Times, the Birmingham News, Nature magazine and — how 'bout that — TIME.

I'm also glad to see the Journal is providing more coverage of the arts, as the paper maintains a decent stable of experts and critics. That said, the arts coverage is the one thing that's still tough to locate. If I have it straight, it appears in the back of the Personal Journal section three days a week, only the Personal Journal sometimes runs in the back of the Marketplace section. And arts coverage runs somewhere else altogether in both the Weekend Journal (the one that comes out Friday) and the Weekend Edition (the one that comes out Saturday). Confused? Anyway, arts coverage should be easier to find now if for no other reason than there's more of it.

Finally, there's "Pepper ... and Salt," the small cartoon that has been running for 57 years and that has moved back — apparently due to popular demand — to the Journal's opinion pages. I've always felt uneasy around "Pepper ... and Salt," a bit like I do watching Jay Leno, whose high corn factor and consistent unfunniness make me cringe. But what do I know? America seems to love the guy, along with that little cartoon in the Journal.

Overall, I'd give the relaunch a high passing mark. The paper lost some acreage but didn't dumb down. And it's generally easier to navigate. So we can all take our quills, and stick them back in the bird. The Journal is doing fine.