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'Wall Street Journal' layoffs continue, despite lucrative AI deal and record profits

<em>The Wall Street Journal </em>Editor in Chief Emma Tucker has conducted multiple rounds of newsroom layoffs this year as part of a broad reorganization. Here, she participates in a panel discussion on the importance of free and safe global reporting during a 2023 conference hosted by the newspaper.
Mary Altaffer/AP
The Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Emma Tucker has conducted multiple rounds of newsroom layoffs this year as part of a broad reorganization. Here, she participates in a panel discussion on the importance of free and safe global reporting during a 2023 conference hosted by the newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal has laid off even more journalists, despite a surge in paid subscribers, strong profits at its parent company, and a new nine-figure licensing deal with OpenAI.

The union representing the newsroom – the International Association of Publishers’ Employees – staged an hour-long walkout Thursday to object to the job cuts. Staffers stuck Post-it notes protesting the move on the glass walls of the office of Editor in Chief Emma Tucker, whose vision for the paper has come under fire.

The layoffs of at least eight reporters who covered national and breaking news follow double-digit cuts to staff in Washington and abroad, although the paper has added some positions back in recent months. The union tabulation only covers those represented by the local; others have been laid off as well.

In a note to staff, Tucker described the moves as part of a larger reorganization.

“Our Editor-in-chief is reshaping our newsroom with an eye towards digital growth, subscription growth and high-quality journalism,” a spokesperson said in a written statement. “While we recognize change can be difficult, it is necessary to ensure we have the right structure in place to support our objectives.”

In a presentation to investors, which was reviewed by NPR, Tucker said the paper’s reporting is to start, be part of, and guide “the conversation” – and make it “feel real.” She organized what she called her “coverage principles” into four baskets: revelatory, timely, expert and relatable.

The Journal is owned by News Corp, the publishing powerhouse controlled by the Murdoch family, which also owns Fox News.

How is The Wall Street Journal changing?

While Tucker has told staffers that the cuts are part of a larger strategy to refashion the paper for the modern age, current and former Journal employees say her approach offers little tangible to hold onto.

“At some point it’s going to be hard to keep all the people on board without a stated mission,” says Julie Bykowicz, who was laid off from a job covering national politics earlier this year, along with several dozen colleagues in the paper’s Washington bureau. Bykowicz was among the handful of reporters offered a chance to return to the paper. She declined.

“I don’t necessarily think it’s bad if a place wants to reinvent itself or to do something different,” says Bykowicz, now the business and enterprise editor for the Baltimore Banner. “But it is uncomfortable to see a place go through such upheaval without a clear end in sight.”

In a memo to staff today, Tucker wrote that the paper had embraced a “reader-first strategy,” and shed focus on regional and local general news. “We have made a lot of changes in recent months, and I can say that we are very much delivering for our readers,” Tucker wrote. “Subscriptions are up, engagement is up, the website and the app and the paper are brilliant and surprising and interesting every single day.”

Layoffs come after lucrative deal, increase in profits

The contract between the company and the newsroom union lapsed last summer and the union declined to continue extending it earlier this year. The two sides are negotiating somewhat fitfully over the size of pay raises and protections for journalists over the use of artificial intelligence at the paper.

OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, struck a deal with News Corp last week giving OpenAI access to its publications’ material for five years. The Journal reported the arrangement could be worth as much as $250 million.

Earlier this month, News Corp told investors its profitability rose slightly against its performance a year ago. And The Journal’s corporate division, Dow Jones, attained 5 million paying digital subscribers for the first time.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the company continues to have layoffs when every quarter they’re making record profits,” says Jodi Green, president of the union local representing the newsroom.

“We don’t understand the reasoning behind a lot of it and it’s discouraging to our members and to morale throughout the newsroom and all of Dow Jones.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me why some of the best journalists in our newsrooms are being let go,” she says.

Copyright 2024 NPR

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.