When a Newspaper Headline Turns Out to Be More Important Than the Story

From a New York Times story, by Marc Tracy, headlined “Inside the Wall Street Journal, Tensions Rise Over ‘Sick Man’ China Headline”:

More than four dozen journalists at The Wall Street Journal challenged their bosses and criticized the newspaper’s opinion side in a letter that was sent to top executives on Thursday, the day after China announced that it would expel three Journal staff members in retaliation for a headline that offended the country’s leaders.

In all, 53 reporters and editors signed the letter. They criticized the newspaper’s response to the fallout from the headline, “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” that went with a Feb. 3 opinion essay by Walter Russell Mead, a Journal columnist, on economic repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, urged the newspaper’s leaders “to consider correcting the headline and apologizing to our readers, sources, colleagues and anyone else who was offended by it.”. . .

The in-house criticism brought to the surface longstanding tensions at The Journal between the reporters and editors who cover the news and the opinion journalists who work under the longtime editorial page editor, Paul A. Gigot. As at other major newspapers, including The Times and The Washington Post, the news side and the opinion department are run separately. . . .

Mr. Mead, the writer of the op-ed, suggested in a Twitter post on Feb. 8 that he was opposed to the headline, writing, “Argue with the writer about the article content, with the editors about the headlines.” . . .

Journal leaders met with newsroom employees to discuss the headline before China condemned it. In one meeting, Matt Murray, the editor in chief, seemed to agree with the complaints, but said there was not much he could do about the headline because of the strict separation of the news and opinion sides. In a second meeting, journalists pushed Mr. Lewis, the publisher, to change the headline, to no avail.

Speak Your Mind