The Wall Street Journal Tires of New York Times Poaching

According to recent departees and newsroom sources, editor-in-chief Matt Murray is increasingly frustrated by the steady of stream of losses to the expansionist Gray Lady

The outflow of talent from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times seems to be getting to Journal editor-in-chief Matt Murray. He’s a widely respected editor, and many reporters had good experiences on their way out with him, but others see signs of a muted frustration. “Matt and pretty much everyone I worked with at The Journal were very good to me when I worked there and very gracious when I left,” said Michael Rothfeld, now an investigative reporter on the metro desk at The Times. Others, both still in The Journal’s newsroom and now outside of it, have picked up on what they see as indicators of his frustration, including asking newsroom staff how to be better about retaining young reporters and blocking some former newsroom staff from his protected Twitter account after they left the paper.

Murray tempered this impression in a statement. “For a big news organization, some turnover is normal and expected, and we’ve actually been quite stable. It’s a fluid time, and competitors naturally target our talented staff — as we do theirs. We’ve kept those we most wanted to keep, and continue to hire great new colleagues,” he told The Fine Print. He’s benefited from those conversations with staff that are still there. “They’re great conversations to have,” he said. “As the world changes, we’ve done a lot not just to attract the most talented journalists, but to help them grow and develop.” He did not respond to a question about the Twitter blocking.

The Wall Street Journal has long had trouble holding on to rising stars, with many taking off for The New York Times in particular. Joe Kahn, the newly appointed executive editor of The Times, recalled in an interview with The Fine Print the fight The Journal put up to keep him in 1998. In turn, after he was appointed managing editor, he lured The Journal’s deputy editor Rebecca Blumenstein over to The Times. Prominent defectors in recent years to the rival paper have included, along with Rothfeld, Nicole Hong, Rebecca Davis O’Brien (who were all members of The Journal’s team that won a Pulitzer in 2019), Pulitzer-winner Alexandra Berzon, who passed through ProPublica on her way to The Times, Tammy Audi, Maureen Farrell, Anupreeta Das, Tripp Mickle, Ben Mullin, Matthew Futterman, and David Enrich. For some reporters at a paper that views itself as an equal of The Times — “We’ve long competed with The New York Times and The Washington Post. I think a lot of people think that the three of us are sort of the three emerging national legacy print publications,” Murray said in a 2019 podcast interview — that outflow, and the lack of a comparable flow in the opposite direction, has been dispiriting.

It’s not that The Journal has problems staffing its newsroom. Tim Martell, executive director for the Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal union, told The Fine Print, “Our bargaining unit numbers are stable,” noting that they’d ticked up by about a half dozen or a dozen from the previous year. The prime difficulty is keeping the talented people the newsroom develops. “The Journal has an amazing ability to find bright journalists and turn them into powerhouses. They’re better at it than The Times and most newspapers because it’s so team-oriented and the editors are quite strong, you’re really pushed,” said Bradley Hope, who co-led a 2016 Pulitzer-finalist team at The Journal and left the paper in 2021 to start Project Brazen, a journalism studio and production company, with Tom Wright, the other leader of that Pulitzer team. “The Journal is doing the hard part of finding the best people and training them, and then The Times is coming in and grabbing people.”

The Times, in particular, has been in an expansionist mode lately, and editors at plenty of publications have bristled at losing people to its, relatively speaking, massive payroll and recently aggressive hiring. But The Journal, a business news giant, should be well-positioned to retain its newsroom: Every current and former staffer who spoke with The Fine Print had great things to say about The Journal as a place to work. However, other institutions like The Times can be a more powerful magnet. “Very few people grow up dreaming of getting a job at The Wall Street Journal. For better or worse, they think of things like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Spotlight, and things like that. So part of it is they never quite get over that dream of going to the big paper that everyone’s heard of in the world,” said Hope. “I don’t think there was any specific catalyzing factor that prompted people to leave. I think Matt is a very good editor. The bureau chiefs are all pretty solid,” said another former staffer. “I just left for The Times because it’s been my dream to work at The Times since I was a kid.”

People who want to stay reporters rather than becoming editors can start to see other places as more suited to fostering their ambitions after they’ve notched major accomplishments at The Journal. “There is something about it that probably is less journalist-focused,” said Hope. “In general, journalists at The Journal are not cultivated into becoming stars or becoming even personalities for the most part. Whereas other papers, they take a different approach. So you are always a little bit anonymized at The Journalbecause it’s very team-oriented, it’s very editor-focused.”

It’s a hard problem to solve because the institution would have to change in fundamental ways to assuage these frustrations. “It’s not about money,” Hope said. “They can offer somebody a bit more money than they had before, but that’s not going to make them stay. Because that’s not why they’re leaving.”