- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

In an attempt to bolster ad revenues at The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, has just appointed its first nonjournalist chief executive.

Richard F. Zannino, the company’s chief operating officer since 2002, will replace Peter Kann and Karen Elliot House, the premier journalistic power couple, who led the business publishing empire for nearly two decades.

Unlike Pulitzer Prize winners Mr. Kann and Mrs. House, Mr. Zannino, 47, has no background as a journalist. Before joining Dow Jones, he was a well-regarded executive at Liz Claiborne Inc., General Signal Corp. and Saks Holdings, respectively, companies in apparel, railroad switches and retailing.

As former reporter myself, here’s a friendly tip for Mr. Zannino as he looks for ways to increase advertising at the Journal, whose two mainstays — financial and technology ads — fell 17 and 8.2 percent respectively in the first 10 months of 2005.

Get a copy of a recently released study on media bias by Tim Groseclose, a University of California-Los Angeles political scientist, and Jeffrey Milyo, a University of Missouri economist, and read it — not once, but twice, and maybe even three times, if necessary. The study had one block-buster finding, at least for those who are not Washington media insiders.

While the Wall Street Journal’s editorial and op-ed pages are staunchly conservative, its news pages are among the most liberal in the nation — even more so than such papers as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

The UCLA-Missouri study is touted as the first successful effort to objectively quantifying bias in many major U.S. media outlets. While numerous — usually off-the-cuff — surveys over the last three decades have shown the Washington press corps overwhelmingly votes for Democratic presidential candidates, their unscientific methodologies cast doubts about their accuracy. Most political scientists long assumed the Journal’s reporters were at least moderately conservative because they covered business issues. The study found quite the opposite.

The paper’s news pages scored a little to the left of the average Democratic voter as determined by the liberal ratings assigned members of Congress by Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the nation’s oldest liberal policy group.

Democrats in Congress had an average ADA liberal rating of 84 The Journal’s news pages scored an 85, through favorable mentions of Democratic politicians and liberal policy institutes, compared to Republican and conservative counterparts.

That may be news to academics and the general public, but to veteran journalists who regularly cover news conferences and press briefings — or occasionally hoist a few beers at the National Press Club’s Reliable Source bar— it is no surprise.

Gripes about their paper’s conservative editorial stances, are common among Wall Street Journal reporters at such gatherings. Not a few have publicly indicated they “evened the playing field” a bit for liberals in their reporting just to spite their paper’s editorial policy.

Such slanted reporting may earn accolades from their media colleagues inside the Beltway, but it almost certainly is offensive to many of the paper’s advertisers who would prefer a more objective approach.

The worst offenders on the Journal’s reporting staff seem to be those who cover environmental and political activist issues. The perception in much of the business community is that they often tilt in favor of such ultra-left groups as the Environmental Working Group, Greenpeace, the Center for Auto Safety and the Center for Science in The Public Interest, to name a few.

Indeed, sensational scare stories blaming corporations for every new environmental disaster or safety hazard seem to have paraded across the Journal’s front page in recent years.

No one suggests any of those reporters match their coverage to the Journal’s conservative editorials. But if Mr. Zannino wants to woo advertisers back into the fold, he should demand his paper’s reporters follow a strict standard of objectivity.

Come to think of it, the same policy might lure both advertisers and readers back to all of the major U.S. newspapers that have been hemorrhaging red ink over the last few years.

James L. Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a national nonpartisan senior citizen organization based in Arlington, Va. A former reporter, he has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida.

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