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Wall Street Journal to close Boston bureau

Paper cites fall in ads, economy

By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / October 30, 2009

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The Wall Street Journal plans to close its Boston bureau by the end of the year, another example of how the recession and advertising slump is hurting even the biggest newspapers in the country.

Officials for the Wall Street Journal said yesterday that the bureau, which produces articles for the paper about New England and industries such as health care, education, and financial services, will shutter by Dec. 31. The paper will shift most of the coverage to its New York office.

Of the 12 reporters and editors who work in the Boston office, three will remain with the company and nine will be laid off and given the chance to apply for other jobs at the paper.

In a memo to employees yesterday, managing editor Robert Thomson wrote: “The economic background to the closure is painfully obvious to us all.’’

Like other US newspapers, the Journal, which is owned by Dow Jones & Co., has been hurt by readers’ migration online and a decline in advertising revenue that has led to layoffs, salary cuts, hiring freezes, and closures of papers nationwide. Last year, the Journal cut 50 news positions, leaving it with about 750 employees worldwide.

The Journal is one of a few papers that charge readers for some online content, and this month the paper said it would begin offering a professional version of its site at a premium price.

News of the closing of the Boston office comes days after the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that the Journal surpassed USA Today as the largest US newspaper by gaining about 12,000 subscribers in the April-September period, compared with a year earlier, to average Monday-Friday circulation of 2.02 million. USA Today said it had its worst circulation decline ever, down 17 percent to 1.88 million.

The closing surprised media analysts, who say the Journal needs a base in the heart of New England. “This is an area that is alive with business news and readers,’’ said Lou Ureneck, chairman of Boston University’s journalism department.

The Boston bureau, which is at least 100 years old, has won two Pulitzer Prizes in the past five years: one in 2004 for a series on how university admissions favored children of alumni and wealthy donors and another in 2007 for an investigation of the abuse of backdated stock options for business executives.

Roy Harris, a former 23-year Journal reporter, wrote “Pulitzer’s Gold,’’ a 2008 book that focused on the bureau’s prize-winning investigation. “To lose a bureau in a critical area like Boston is going to be costly for the Journal and Journal readers,’’ said Harris, a Hingham resident.

The investigative team of two Boston employees will remain here, officials said. Coverage of the Boston mutual fund industry will move to the New York-based Money and Investing team and the Journal will create an enhanced New York-based education team.

Robert Christie, a Journal spokesman, said the paper does not plan to close any of its other 36 news bureaus. “We are not giving up on the beats; we are just relocating them,’’ he said. “A lot of the companies that we used to cover are no longer in Boston and a lot of the jobs that were in Boston could be located anywhere in the US.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.

Clarification: A story in yesterday's Business section about The Wall Street Journal closing its Boston bureau stated that the paper is owned by Dow Jones & Co. It should also have stated that News Corp. owns Dow Jones.