On the WSJ v. the FT

by F.

I subscribe to both, though I have been reading the FT for a lot longer. The WSJ redesigned itself beginning this year, shrinking the size of the paper, adding a new font by Hoefler & Frere-Jones (which is beautiful), and focusing more on longer analysis pieces. But still, the writing in the WSJ is weak, in my view. And I’m not just talking about the editorial page, which I stay away from (it is surrounded by a reality distortion field). What do I mean that the writing sucks? It generally flouts these simple rules:

In general, try to make your writing fresh. It will seem stale if it reads like hackneyed journalese. One weakness of journalists, who on daily newspapers may plead that they have little time to search for the apposite word, is a love of the ready-made, seventh-hand phrase. Lazy journalists are always at home in oil-rich country A, ruled by ailing President B, the long-serving strongman, who is, according to the chattering classes, a wily political operator—hence the present uneasy peace—but, after his recent watershed (or landmark or sea-change) decision to arrest his prime minister (the honeymoon is over), will soon face a bloody uprising in the breakaway south. Similarly, lazy business journalists always enjoy describing the problems of troubled company C, a victim of the revolution in the gimbal-pin industry (change is always revolutionary in such industries), which, well-placed insiders predict, will be riven by a make-or-break strike unless one of the major players makes an 11th-hour (or last-ditch) intervention in a marathon negotiating session.

That’s from the style guide for The Economist, which can be found here. The information in the WSJ is good, but the writing is so hackneyed and without “juice” that it hurts my little brain. Matter is more important than manner; but manner is important, too, if you want people to remember what you said.

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