July 13, 2011

News that the Bancroft family might not have sold The Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch if they knew then what they know now about his newspapers’ journalistic practices, reminded me: Wasn’t there a panel established to protect the editorial integrity of the WSJ from those same proclivities?

Yes, there was. And four years later, Dow Jones spokesperson Ashley Huston confirms the five people on that editorial integrity committee are each still being paid $100,000 a year to read the paper and… well it’s not exactly clear what else they’re expected to do. The committee members are:

  • Thomas J. Bray, former editorial page editor of the Detroit News;
  • Louis Boccardi, former chief executive of the Associated Press;
  • Jack Fuller, retired president of Tribune Publishing Co.;
  • Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
  • Susan M. Phillips, former dean of the George Washington University School of Business.

This group was last heard from publicly in May 2008 when they criticized Robert Thomson and Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton — formerly chairman of News International, which oversaw the newly-defunct News of the World — for their handling of managing editor Marcus Brauchli’s departure. Their report about Brauchli’s departure read, in part:

“The Committee met subsequently and decided that there was no practical way to ‘unresign’ Brauchli and start the process over.

“Under the agreement, the committee has the duty and responsibility to approve or disapprove such actions. The Committee intends to exercise fully its role in the approval of a successor managing editor and to take the steps necessary to prevent a repeat of the process it has just been through.”

Later that same month, after the committee approved Thomson as the new managing editor, its chair Thomas Bray had this exchange with Jesse Oxfeld:

The committee has said that it was frustrated with how Brauchli’s departure was handled, and Thomson’s involvement in that. But hasn’t the committee now merely signed off on a fait accompli?

That did trouble us. But you have to weigh that against other factors, including Robert’s fairly long record as a distinguished editor at various publications, including working for Murdoch as head of the Times of London.

As part of the just-withdrawn bid to purchase the remaining shares of British Sky Broadcasting, News Corp. also proposed an independent board that “would be able to approve the hiring and firing of the editor of Sky News, and ‘a commitment to the principle of editorial independence and integrity will be enshrined in the articles of association.’ ”

Rick Edmonds contributed to this report.

Correction: Susan Phillips’ title was incorrect in an earlier version of this post.

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Julie Moos (jmoos@poynter.org) has been Director of Poynter Online and Poynter Publications since 2009. Previously, she was Editor of Poynter Online (2007-2009) and Poynter Publications…
Julie Moos

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