I was surprised and heartened to read that Andrew Langhoff, publisher of The Wall Street Journal Europe, had recently resigned after an internal investigation revealed he was closely involved with an ethics breach at the paper.
Allegedly, WSJ Europe’s circulation department made a deal with a Dutch consulting firm to sell the firm discounted papers for distribution to students and others, thus boosting WSJ Europe’s circulation and allowing it to raise its advertising rates. The paper informally agreed to give the firm editorial coverage in return. Two articles featuring the firm were published in the paper, and the internal inquiry found that Langhoff personally pressured reporters to write those stories.
I hate for anybody to lose his or her job. However, what has remained with me since my first journalism class in high school is that there should be a “wall” between a publication’s editorial department and its business departments (including circulation and advertising). Editorial should be independent. Admittedly, high school is a distant memory and from what I see today, an independent editorial department has pretty much been tossed out the window. Just watch any television news program (particularly a local TV news show), to see examples of the creeping intermingling of news and advertising—in many instances, it’s difficult to tell one from the other. However, based on WSJ Europe’s actions, it looks like there are still those around who believe this independence should still exist.
WSJ Europe is owned by News Corp., a company that, after this year’s News of the World imbroglio, is likely trying to keep its nose especially clean. Still, this Langhoff incident could probably have been swept under the rug. I was very glad to hear it wasn’t.