Way back in January we broke the news that Wall Street Journal op-ed editor Tunku Varadarajan was breaking through the paper's version of a Chinese Wall, moving from the editorial to the news side. Today the New York Observer's Michael Calderone explains why this is such a big deal to people who think this sort of thing can qualify as a "big deal." (We're reminded of the quip about why academic battles are so fierce: because the stakes are so small. When it comes to journalism you can multiply that by ten. Minute stakes, fiercer battles.)
“Pedro Martinez moved from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Mets,” said Paul Steiger, the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. “He’s not going to be loyal to the Boston Red Sox.”
Mr. Steiger was turning to the baseball analogy to explain another feat of switching sides: On March 1, Tunku Varadarajan is due to join The Journal’s newsroom as an assistant managing editor, after more than six years in the paper’s staunchly conservative opinion department.
But Mr. Varadarajan’s transfer is something more improbable than a pitcher changing teams. At the legendarily divided Journal, it’s more as if Major League Baseball were to announce that it was hiring Mike and the Mad Dog as umpires.
“He’s not just a guy who writes about the arts,” one Journal staffer said. “He writes opinionated, right-wing columns …. It’s hard to see how the news pages benefit from someone like that.”
The split between the parts of The Journal is both ideological and operational. Under editorial-page editor Paul Gigot, opinion writers freely dispute the facts reported in the rest of the paper, if so inclined. In return, news staffers disavow the contributions from Mr. Gigot’s side.
Op-Out: Varadarajan Hurdles Journal’s News-Editorial Divide [New York Observer, second item]