The Star-Ledger will shift their online coverage to national news stories involving President Donald Trump and political issues, their top New Jersey executive announced today.
“Our focus has been intensely New Jersey, but it’s clear some of you want more national news,” Kevin Whitmer, the senior vice president for content and development for NJ Advance Media wrote today in an op-ed published on their website. “We will oblige.”
The move follows weeks of pushing readers to purchase voluntary subscriptions in support of local journalism and follows intense pressure from their ownership to increase their subscription revenues or face massive layoffs and reductions in the number of days the newspaper appears in print.
Whitmer acknowledged reader complaints that some of their reporters are biased and revealed a change in policy to obviate those complaints in the future.
According to Whitmer, certain reporters not connected to the editorial board had been asked to “share their expertise and authority, when appropriate.”
“We also encourage more first-person writing today than we have in my 34 years as a journalist,” he said. “So, yes, the line has blurred.”
The Star-Ledger is changing that policy, effective immediately.
“We will limit the number of staffers who write opinion, and leave that primarily to the editorial board and our columnists,” Whitmer said. “That doesn’t mean we are caving to pressure from our most extreme critics, a vocal minority that likes to shop hollow talking points distorting our work.”
The newspaper will also do a better job at clearly labeling opinion content to avoid confusion, Whitmer pledged.
Whitmer also conceded the ideological bent of their opinions.
“The Star-Ledger Editorial Board clearly leans left, as does New Jersey,” Whitmer stated. “On national affairs, the board finds itself pretty consistently in opposition to President Trump, like half the country.”
But the Star-Ledger official pushed back on accusations when opinions involve state policy, saying the editorial board “is more centrist” on New Jersey issues.
Whitmer pointed to endorsements of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman — in 1997, but not in 1993 – and Gov. Chris Christie in 2013.
Three months after the 2013 election, Star-Ledger editorial page editor Tom Moran received national attention when he called his newspaper’s endorsement of Christie “regrettable.”
“We blew this one,” he said.
Another endorsement Whitmer touted as evidence of the Star-Ledger’s moderate ideology on local issues: his newspaper’s endorsement of independent Chris Daggett in the 2009 gubernatorial race against Christie and incumbent Gov. Jon S. Corzine.
Daggett received just 5.76% of the statewide vote.
Attack on Murphy
In the same opinion piece announcing a shift in news coverage, Whitmer threw a punch at Gov. Phil Murphy.
“The current governor, perhaps our most liberal yet, has refused to speak with the editorial board for two years now,” Whitmer wrote. “This board has banged heads with him over and over.
Whitmer’s admission that the largest newspaper in the state can’t get the governor into an editorial board meeting appears to be a stunning admission of journalistic impotence.
The New Jersey Globe has learned that Murphy has not spoken to Moran in two years – something that has not affected the governor’s standing in public opinion polls during the current coronavirus pandemic.
During that time, Murphy’s approval ratings has jumped more than 30 percentage points.
Murphy has figured out that he can more easily reach New Jerseyans through national television appearances, daily press briefings that have developed a wide audience, and social media. That allows him to skip the traditional route of seeking coverage through daily newspapers with shrinking circulation.
Over the past two months, Murphy has appeared on every national Sunday news show, his communications director, Mahen Gunaratna, said on Twitter.
Whitmer has admitted Star-Ledger revenues are down during national COVID-19 crisis.
Advance Publications, which owns the Star-Ledger, the Plain Dealer and other major U.S. newspapers, is the 47th largest privately-held company in the United States. Conde Nast, the Discovery Channel, Reddit, and dozens of daily newspapers across the nation are just part of their portfolio. Forbes estimates Advance’s annual revenue to be $6.25 billion.
Advance has gutted the Cleveland Plain Dealer, announcing layoffs of 18 of their remaining 32 reporters in March for a newspaper that had an editorial staff of 168 just seven years ago.
By May, the Plain Dealer staff was down to zero after Advance busted their union and shifted their last four reporters to Cleveland.com, their non-unionized online news site.
Also in March, Advance announced an all-cash deal to buy the Beijing-based Ironman group for $730 million. One week before that, Advance announced a $200 million investment in Scopely, a “fast-growing mobile games space” that allows you to play Wheel of Fortune on your smart phone.
At their New Orleans daily newspaper, the Times-Picayune, Advance had reduced their printing to three days a week before selling the newspaper to a competitor. Nearly 170 journalism jobs were eliminated in that move.