Gerard Baker introduces himself to staff at ‘Journal,’ says that ‘outside the coasts’ people love the editorials

The Wall Street Journal. ()
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The Wall Street Journal rank-and-file is slowly getting to know its new captain.

Gerry Baker, who was installed in the paper's top masthead slot after Robert Thomson moved up to run News Corp's proposed standalone publishing company, recently convened two Town Hall meetings to "take some time to talk and listen to you about my plans for Dow Jones and The Journal," he said in an invitation emailed to staff last month.

"Please join me for an off-site Town Hall discussion ... where I’ll lay out what I see as the main journalistic and strategic priorities for 2013 and beyond and answer your questions about our plans."

The second of those meetings was taking place today starting at 1:30, and not much news was made at the first, held Friday in an auditorium several blocks from the News Corp. building in Midtown, according to people who were present.

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"It was more of his rollout to staff," said one insider, giving Baker high marks overall: "I think he displayed a good handle of both the business- and editorial-side concerns."

A spokesperson for Dow Jones and The Journal declined to comment on the Friday session.

But one of the highlights, sources said, was Baker's discussion of the ongoing integration of The Journal and its sister brand, Dow Jones Newswires, of which Baker serves as editor-in-chief in addition to his role as managing editor of The Journal, the highest-ranking editorial title at the paper.

Appearing alone onstage in a navy pinstripe suit and a pale-blue dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, Baker said the integration, which aims to streamline the editorial processes of the financial-news titles, would be completed within nine to 18 months.

But the assembled journalists didn't leave the meeting, which lasted for more than an hour, with a clear understanding of what exactly the integration will mean for their day-to-day routines. There's been speculation that it will result in layoffs, but Baker dodged the bullet when asked about this directly—he didn't say people would lose their jobs; nor did he say they wouldn't.

For many, the Town Hall was a chance to become better acquainted with an editor who remains something of an unknown quantity to many in the newsroom. Journal staffers who weren't present when Thomson famously poured champagne all over Baker's head to celebrate his promotion last December may not have ever seen or heard their new boss up close, but they were surely aware of criticisms lodged against Baker about his management experience (before coming to The Journal as deputy managing editor in 2008 he was a columnist at The Times of London) and outspoken conservative ideology

Baker's political views mirror The Journal's right-leaning editorial page but are seen as troubling to some reporters and editors who feel that readers misinterpret the editorial positioning of the news report because of what's written in the editorials.

One person at Friday's Town Hall asked whether Baker had given any thought to rejiggering the editorial page. He demurred, saying that he has no authority over the opinion section. But he said the editorials often rank among the most-read content on wsj.com and joked that "outside the coasts," people really love them.

Baker also talked about "Grand Central," Dow Jones' plan to sell to clients directly as opposed to relying on rival wires Bloomberg and Reuters for distribution. The service will offer tiered membership levels that will determine how quickly subscribers get access to content.

As for the proposed split of News Corp. this summer into separate entities focused on entertainment and publishing, respectively, Baker characterized The Journal and Dow Jones as being central to the latter company. He didn't have an answer, however, about whether or not The Journal would be renamed WSJ, a possibility floated by News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoh during an interview with CNBC last June.