The Wall Street Journal is closing its fashion and retail group, and will reduce the number of staffers on that beat to five from nine. The Journal will retain columnist Christina Binkley and editor Lisa Bannon, but seven others have been laid off and asked to reapply for three remaining positions in the group, in accordance with union rules. (So far, the Journal’s nascent luxury magazine, WSJ., has not been affected, a spokesman said.)
The group, which was assembled in 2006 to expand the paper’s coverage of the luxury boom, includes 23-year Journal veteran Teri Agins, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, and Rachel Dodes.
In a staff memo Thursday, managing editor Robert Thompson said a total of 14 positions had been cut, in addition to the 11 jobs eliminated when the newsroom was restructured. The other affected groups were bureaus in Los Angeles and Boston, as well as several New York-based coverage areas. “There is no doubt that Dow Jones is in a far stronger position than our competitors and that the global influence of the Journal and Newswires is growing significantly, so there are genuine reasons for optimism,” Thompson wrote. “But we also must be realistic about the current trading environment and continue to reduce costs while maintaining the world’s highest standard of journalistic quality and integrity.”
One of the reasons for the cuts also became evident Thursday when the Journal’s parent, News Corp., reported a net loss of $6.4 billion, versus a profit of $832 million for the second quarter, which represents the company’s first net loss in 13 quarters. The company noted an $8.4 billion writedown, reflecting the declining value of its newspaper and television assets. Adjusted operating income was down $17 million to $179 million in its newspaper segment, which now includes the Journal. Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer, claimed the Journal is the only newspaper in the country that is still growing, adding that paid circulation is up year over year and the Weekend Edition has become the country’s biggest selling weekend newspaper in individually paid sales, surpassing the Sunday edition of The New York Times. While on the subject of The Times, does Murdoch have any interest in buying it? “I have no desire to be an even more perfect enemy or target,” he said.