Ian Burrell: Mogul must be regretting his hands-off approach

 

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London, Rupert Murdoch must be thinking, always problems in London. First it was the News of the World and now it's The Wall Street Journal Europe, the paper he thought could challenge the Financial Times in its own heartland.

When News Corp got its hands on the Journal in 2007, Mr Murdoch made the title's little-read European edition a pet project. He signalled his intent two years later by placing the paper in the hands of the formidable business journalist Patience Wheatcroft, a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph and business editor of The Times.

She inherited a product with a daily UK circulation of just 16,468 – though it boasted a European distribution of 78,230 thanks to 52,518 giveaways.

Wheatcroft talked of her "integrated London newsroom" and "phenomenal brand". Her publisher Andrew Langhoff said her arrival was "a fresh new start in Europe". But by the time she left to become Baroness Wheatcroft last November, things were desperate. Increased resources had not created an audience.

Circulation was down to 12,000 UK sales and 73,000 in Europe and being propped up by questionable methods, the revelation of which this week has prompted Langhoff to quit. According to the Journal's own report, Baroness Wheatcroft had been informed by a reporter of a controversial piece about a Dutch firm that was involved in the circulation ploy.

"The article went forward and was published," noted the Journal, which failed to get a response from its former editor.

During a House of Lords debate on media standards this summer, Baroness Wheatcroft praised Mr Murdoch for his hands-off approach.

"I wrote what I wanted," she said. The media mogul probably wishes he had paid a little more attention to his British-based titles.

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