Wall Street Journal overseas teams are taking a hit as Hong Kong is trimmed and insiders brace for more cuts

  • The WSJ laid off editorial staff in Hong Kong, and insiders speculated more cuts could be coming.
  • EIC Emma Tucker recently revealed her plan to jumpstart the paper’s digital readership.
  • She wants the newsroom to be “audience-first,” “go deep,” and “stop flooding the zone.”

Emma Tucker’s Wall Street Journal laid off employees in its Hong Kong bureau, and three company insiders said more layoffs were on the way.

The London office and the standards and ethics team, a dedicated unit that ensures stories meet the paper’s quality bar, were the focus of insider speculation about potential further cuts.

According to two sources, the layoffs in Hong Kong affected seven editors on a desk that polishes stories before they’re published. People with firsthand knowledge speculated that the company was looking to save money by shifting work to other offices. A spokesperson for the WSJ declined to comment.

Tucker announced her plan to revitalize the newsroom with a “audience-first” model in September, sparking speculation that a reorganization is on the way.

Hong Kong is the latest example of dribbled-out cuts to the storied newsroom in recent months, in keeping with the Journal’s practice of reducing small numbers of people.

“It’s scary,” said one insider. “They clearly don’t feel qualms about letting people go.”

The stage was set earlier this year when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the Journal’s parent company, announced a 5% reduction across all of its businesses. Many Journal employees, however, assumed that the crown jewel’s newsroom would be relatively unscathed.

Tucker has already shuffled the top editor ranks since taking over as editor in chief of the paper in February, bringing in new faces from her alma mater, The Sunday Times in London, and the Financial Times’ David Crow, while parting ways with longtime editors Karen Pensiero, Neal Lipschutz, Jason Anders, and Page 1 editor Matthew Rose.

She’s also made some changes to the news product, such as eliminating honorifics (such as Mr. or Ms.) and corporate designations (such as Co. or Inc.) to simplify writing. She has encouraged reporters to pursue more interesting stories while discouraging commodity stories.

Tucker’s 18-page content plan, which he shared with staff during a town hall meeting in September, was lacking in specifics. Tucker advocated for the Journal to be a “audience-first publication” “for people who mean business,” which some staff dismissed as corporate-sounding.

“We must significantly increase engagement with our digital products,” the strategy advised. It also recommended that we go “deep over broad, find the WSJ angle, stop ‘flooding the zone,’ more ‘day 2’ on day 1,” and at the same time “focus specialists on getting the scoop and telling readers what it means.”

It established four guiding principles: putting the reader first, providing value to readers, being purposeful, and empowering staff.

Meanwhile, at Tucker’s encouragement, editors have been joining reporters in filing articles, and staff are becoming more familiar with how stories are performing, a shift in a newsroom where reporters have traditionally been relatively insulated from such metrics.

“If your story doesn’t get a lot of hits, it’s not good,” another source expressed concern. “There is a lot of worry about that.” It has an impact on everyone. Everyone is discussing it.”

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