A Newspaper's Philosophy
Updated Jan. 1, 2000 11:59 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal, January 2, 1951
The following editorial appears in today's Chicago Journal of Commerce which with this issue becomes an edition of The Wall Street Journal. It sums up for our readers new and old our philosophy in producing a national business newspaper.
The new publishers of the Chicago Journal of Commerce will not change its basic character. It will remain a business newspaper. There will be changes in the makeup and in the presentation of news. We cannot forecast what they will be, for they will be determined largely by the wishes and suggestions of readers.
What we can tell you now--indeed, what we think is due you--is an account of the principles and standards which guide us in the making of a business newspaper; a statement of our publication philosophy.
A business newspaper must be two things at one and the same time. It must be specialized. Yet the interests and activities of its editors must be as diverse as the American landscape. The editors are specialists in the way that a medical diagnostician is a specialist; the diagnostician has a certain function, but to perform that function he must have an accurate and detailed knowledge of the human anatomy. Just so the business editor must have access to all the news. His specialty is selection and treatment.
We are like the diagnostician in another respect. We must tell what we find and not merely what will be pleasing.
There was once a legend that a business newspaper must be a perpetual Pollyanna, never admitting that things were other than good or, at the very least, stressing those facts which might indicate that they will soon get better. We have no truck with any such idea. We don't make the news; we report it. We feel no obligation to ask the reader to view it through rose colored lenses. If the news is good, we are glad. If it is otherwise, we feel it our obligation to report it otherwise.
It is not always easy to hew to that line. We have had readers who insisted that if we would just neglect the fact that things are not as good as they might be, the pretense would somehow make them better. We merely reply that the weatherman who predicts a storm is not motivated by some innate churlishness. Indeed he may induce some people to put on their overshoes and avoid pneumonia.
There was another legend about business editors. This one was that they were men surrounded by calculating machines which they used to produce statistics. We do not adhere to that idea either.
Statistics are handy things and we present a good many of them. Indeed we are the parents of some of the better known statistical indexes. But we remember that by their nature statistics are history. And a newspaper is not a history book. It is the place for live information, telling what is going on now and if possible assembling those facts which may be the basis of judgment of what will be going on tomorrow.
Then this legend went on. After the business editor had his statistics assembled he wrote about them. But he clothed his discourse in a sort of queer jargon which had a remote relation to everyday English. The reader was supposed to be impressed and if he did not understand, then it must be due to his own limitations. Some place there must be somebody who knew the meaning of the array of technicalities. We doubt that there was. In fact we doubt that the writer himself always knew what he was talking about and we suspect abstruse terms were used to cover his own confusion.
We like to have our editors and reporters experts in just one field, which is the field of making a newspaper, of finding information and telling it. We insist that they know what they are writing about and that they tell their story in the simplest language possible. If they can't do that latter, it indicates to us that their own knowledge is incomplete and we send them back for the rest of the information.
And still more legends. There was one that business was something compartmentalized. There was "Big Business" and "Little Business." Within these categories were other divisions. The man who made mouse traps was basically a different fellow than the man who made clothespins. The man who ran a store in New York had different interests than the one who ran a store in San Francisco.
We think that in so far as its information wants are concerned business is universal. The information on which a great automobile manufacturer acts is the same information which influences the man who buys his trucks. If retail trade in New York booms or slumps, there is a man in San Francisco who wants to know the whys and wherefores.
It does not pay to be too certain of anything, but we think we have pretty strong evidence that business is a national community. We publish The Wall Street Journal in New York and we publish it also in San Francisco and in Dallas. Each of those editions is essentially a national newspaper. The readers seem to like it that way. The reason we think they like it is because their number steadily increases.
To finish with legends. It was said that a national newspaper was impractical in the United States because the country was too vast; that the mere problem of distribution would be insuperable. We do have a national circulation. We have been printing in three key cities. Now there is added a fourth and that is something to which we have long looked forward. We can now deliver to most parts of the country on the date of publication
We are a business newspaper. Yet in our subscription lists there are many subscribers--many college students for instance--who are not usually considered as business people. They like a publication which presents the meaningful news and the news interpretations of the day, which presents them without bias, which omits the fires, the assaults and the murders and does not club them over the head with black type.
On our editorial page we make no pretense of walking down the middle of the road. Our comments and interpretations are made from a definite point of view. We believe in the individual, in his wisdom and his decency. We oppose all infringements on individual rights, whether they stem from attempts at private monopoly, labor union monopoly or from an overgrowing government. People will say we are conservative or even reactionary. We are not much interested in labels but if we were to choose one, we would say we are radical. Just as radical as the Christian doctrine.
We have friends but they have not been made by silence or pussyfooting. If we have enemies, we do not placate them.
--William H. Grimes, Editor, The Wall Street Journal