Wall Street Journal Editors Told Not to ‘Amp Up’ Coverage of John Bolton’s Book, Internal Report Says

The report, obtained by BuzzFeed News, also said more than 70% of staff found paper’s coverage of race and gender didn’t “reflect the diversity of the general public”

Wall Street Journal
President Trump holds a copy of the Wall Street Journal during a press briefing in April. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

Senior editors at the Wall Street Journal were instructed not to publish more stories about John Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened” because the paper didn’t want to “amp up” public reaction to the book, according to an internal report obtained by BuzzFeed News on Friday.

The Journal released an exclusive excerpt of the book in June, and senior editors had suggested that the paper publish more pieces related to the excerpt and President Trump’s response to it, according to the report.

“But those senior editors were told not to, because it would ‘amp up’ the public reaction to the story and the WSJ ‘doesn’t want to amp things up.’ So while the WSJ published four articles (including the excerpt), the NYT published nine (plus three wire stories) and the Washington Post published 21,” the report said, noting that the Journal’s pieces didn’t perform as well as they could have, according to BuzzFeed News.

The report also noted that a majority of staff — more than 70% — found that the Journal’s coverage of race, gender and identity didn’t “reflect the diversity of the general public and changing demographic trends” and that two-thirds of the people quoted in a sample of articles were white.

Concerns about the paper’s digital growth were also aired in the internal report, particularly when it came to conversions and the paper’s goal of hitting 5.5 million digital subscribers. (The Journal reported 2.2 million digital-only subscriptions in August.)

In a statement sent to TheWrap, Matt Murray, the Journal’s editor in chief, said the report was a “months-old draft” that had “outdated and inaccurate information.”

“The Wall Street Journal is experiencing tremendous digital growth in audience, advertising and subscriptions, in fact has hit new records, and we are more excited than ever about our future,” Murray said. “We of course regularly discuss and explore what we are doing, and where we should be going. We have a strong foundation as the best source of business, markets and economics news in the world, and we are incredibly proud to serve all of our readers. Our imperative is to make that service even better, and make it available to ever more people around the world. And we will.”

A representative for the Journal did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about the report’s findings on the paper’s coverage of Bolton and staff concerns about coverage of race, gender and identity.

In June, staff members at the paper sent a letter to Murray requesting that the Journal hire reporters and editors to focus on coverage of race, ethnicity and inequality, as well as evaluate the diversity of the paper’s subjects in its prominent stories. Shortly after, the Journal announced it had hired Brent Jones as an editor dedicated to rethinking “diversity on staff and in coverage,” developing “further training and other outreach initiatives” and helping “develop the business journalists of the future,” Murray said in a memo announcing Jones’ new role.


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