‘Journal’ rankles sister paper ‘Post’ with poachings

The News Corp. building. (Dan Paterson via flickr)
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At the end of May, Stefanie Cohen, a features writer for the New York Post, told her bosses she would be leaving the paper to take a new job: Arts & entertainment reporter for The Wall Street Journal's Friday Journal section.

It seemed like an amicable parting at first. Cohen gave multiple weeks notice and offered to get some stories in the pipeline to ease her transition out of the Post, according to several sources with knowledge of the negotiation. But the amity ended when word of her exit made its way up the food chain, those sources said.

The long notice was scrapped, and Cohen was told to leave the building immediately, the sources said. (Cohen would not comment for this article.)

It was about five years ago that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. purchased Dow Jones, Inc., parent company of The Wall Street Journal. The purchase immediately brought the country's highest-circulation daily, with a healthy subscription business and an upmarket readership, into the fold of a company whose other New York newspaper, the unapologetically lower-brow tabloid Post, has long been a money-loser.

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And in many ways, the incorporation of the Journal into News Corp. has resulted in surprisingly little culture clash. Amid lots of changes to the front page, an almost total turnaround of top leadership, and a massive push to increase productivity on the digital side, News Corp. veteran Robert Thomson's reign over The Journal has been relatively placid so far. It's not even uncommon to hear old guard staffers praise some of the change that's come to the place since News Corp. took over.

But one thing hasn't happened since the Journal and the Post became News Corp. step-siblings: There has been little staff movement between the two.

This remained true even after the Journal launched a New York metro section, Greater New York, in early 2010, casting its net all over town for local reporting talent (and recruiting exactly zero people, at the start, from the Post).

The stasis was unusual for News Corp., a company whose newspapers around the world regularly shift talent around among themselves—not just at the very top levels, at the behest of Murdoch or other executives, but all up and down the roster.

There are lots of Australians in the Sixth Avenue building where News Corp. has its headquarters, and a lot of Britons, too. It's a fluidity not restricted to any type of paper or any particular market. For instance, it has not at all been unusual over the last decade and more for journalists to flow freely between Murdoch's British tabloids, The Sun and the now-shuttered News of the World, and his upmarket broadsheet, The Times of London.

But at the company's New York papers, the ice is beginning to break. And in the few recent instances where the Journal or one of its tributary properties has poached talent from the Post, it has rankled the tabloid's leadership, according to sources Capital spoke with for this article. (So far, no reporters have left the Journal for the Post.)

It's not as if there was any sort of firewall in place.

"I wasn't aware of any rules that would have prohibited hiring New York Post employees," said a former Journal executive who worked there through the transition to News Corp. ownership. "It wasn't considered off limits."

Arguably, it would have been unlikely at the beginning anyway.

Before Murdoch's stamp on the august Journal made it a more conducive place for Post reporters to land, it was not a natural destination for the tabloid's hardbitten gumshoes.

But it's more than just the papers' very different identities that has prevented people from bouncing between them.

Back in 2010, Jeremy Olshan, a Post reporter of seven years, was offered a gig at SmartMoney.com, the Journal-branded digital edition of the Dow Jones magazine SmartMoney. (Dow Jones announced last week that SmartMoney will go online-only after the September issue and that roughly two dozen jobs will be eliminated in the process.) The offer resulted in some tension between the two papers, and Olshan was told that the question of whether or not to let him make the move went all the way up to Murdoch, who ultimately handed down a veto, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Olshan declined to comment.

Whatever issue was blocking Olshan's move in 2010 seems to have disappeared: Last September, he finally moved over to become a senior editor for SmartMoney.com and wsj.com, the Journal's website.

This made Olshan, in the estimation of multiple sources familiar with the inner-workings of both papers, the first person to go directly from the Post to a Journal gig, at least in the time since they'd shared a parent company.

The following month, another Post staffer managed a rare switch to the broadsheet several floors down. Heather Haddon, who'd been an enterprise reporter at the Post, took a job at Greater New York, where she was hired to cover New Jersey. This also ruffled some feathers, according to sources, who said Haddon had to quit the Post and then wait a few weeks before she was in the clear to accept the Journal offer and return to News Corp.

Haddon declined to comment. And a spokesperson for the Post did not have a comment about whether the paper disapproved of The Journal dipping into its talent pool. Nor did a spokesperson for The Journal have anything to add.

But it's worth noting that Olshan, Haddon and Cohen were each hired into different departments at The Journal and its affiliated web properties. In other words, the effort to recruit Post-ies to the Journal does not appear to be a coordinated or calculated one.

It's also not particularly rare for reporters leaving the Post to be kicked on their way out the door, or even afterwards.

In March of this year, Dan Aquilante, a music critic for the Post for 32 years, quit to start a small D.I.Y. music-reviewing syndicate out of his Brooklyn apartment. He thought he had left the paper on friendly terms, but things turned sour when Allan killed an ad that Aquilante had purchased to drum up some publicity for his nascent venture.

In any case, sources said the prospect of being raided by a sister publication was stinging one paper more than the other.

As the former Journal executive recalled: "There was more resentment on the Post's side toward The Journal."