NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Wall Street Journal’s top editor resigned on Tuesday, giving News Corp NWSa.N chief Rupert Murdoch an opening to further put his stamp on the newspaper he bought four months ago.
“I am proud to have been part of this exceptionally talented team,” Marcus Brauchli said in a letter to staff on Tuesday. “But now that the ownership transition has taken place, I have come to believe the new owners should have a managing editor of their choosing.”
Brauchli, 46, will stay at News Corp as a consultant.
While it was not clear if Brauchli resigned of his own accord, his departure is one of a series of events at the world-renowned paper that are allowing Murdoch to redesign the business as he looks to expand his media empire.
On Tuesday, Murdoch was close to an agreement with Tribune Co to buy the daily newspaper Newsday for $580 million and run it as a joint venture with the New York Post, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Murdoch also has made several changes to the makeup of The Wall Street Journal, including giving political and general news more prominent placement in the paper as he remakes it into a direct competitor of The New York Times (NYT.N).
Brauchli was named to the top editorial position at the paper a year ago, but his role was expected to be short-lived after Murdoch bought parent company Dow Jones & Co in December.
Brauchli’s announcement came after the 20-year veteran of The Wall Street Journal met with a committee designed to protect editorial integrity at the newspaper. The committee was created as a condition of News Corp’s $5.6 billion purchase of Dow Jones.
The committee said in a statement late on Tuesday that it had been told earlier in the week about Brauchli’s decision to resign.
“I am pleased he has accepted this new role in News Corporation and believe his experience will be a great asset, especially in Asia, a region where we see significant growth potential and where he has particular expertise,” Murdoch said in a statement.
Brauchli will advise the newspaper on the possibility of a business news channel for News Corp’s STAR-TV in Asia, among other things, according to the statement.
He previously worked as a foreign correspondent for the paper, based in places such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Stockholm. He also served as deputy managing editor, global news editor and national editor.
Time magazine first reported Brauchli’s imminent resignation on its Web site late on Monday. The newspaper’s editorial integrity committee, charged with approving the hiring and firing of top editors, met on Tuesday.
A resignation as opposed to a firing would not require committee approval.
“I don’t think anybody when this all began doubted that the man who owns the place makes the decisions, and regardless of what kind of side agreements you might have,” said independent newspaper analyst John Morton.
Committee members contacted by Reuters either declined to comment or did not return calls seeking comment.
Dow Jones said it was searching for a successor to Brauchli.
Media consultant and Buzzmachine.com blogger Jeff Jarvis said Murdoch likely would not choose a replacement who would be rejected by the committee.
“The check and balance on Murdoch is money,” Jarvis said. “He’s not going to ruin that franchise. It would be foolish.”
Since News Corp took over, Murdoch has changed the newspaper’s format, expanding commentary, sports and lifestyle stories in addition to political and general news stories.
He installed former Times of London editor Robert Thomson as publisher, a job that some current and former employees said obviated Brauchli’s position.
“The writing was on the wall nine months ago,” one staffer said, referring to Thomson’s appointment.
Still, his leaving is unsettling for some staff. “Everyone loves Marcus and everyone is hypersensitive to Rupert encroaching on us,” a second staffer said.
Brauchli said News Corp management “scrupulously has avoided imposing any political or business viewpoints” on the paper’s coverage and has enforced the code of conduct.
“I am confident that our journalistic integrity remains intact and that News Corp is committed to a Journal that is vibrant, vital and preeminent in American journalism,” his letter to the newspaper’s staff said.
News Corp shares fell 50 cents to close at $17.96 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Additional reporting by Kenneth Li, editing by Dave Zimmerman and Braden Reddall