Despite the fears of some longtime readers, Rupert Murdoch hasn't filled the pages of The Wall Street Journal with tabloid journalism since his News Corp. acquired Dow Jones & Co. a year ago this week.
Although News Corp. may be famous for publishing such tabloid newspapers as The Sun and New York Post, it has also owned and operated top journalism brands, such as the Times of London, with great success. The company has taken a similar approach in maintaining the revered Wall Street Journal brand while at the same time changing the iconic newspaper in subtle ways.
Moves in the past year have included the appointment of new top executives and editors, a broadening of the Journal's international and political coverage, the introduction of more free content on WSJ.com and regular display advertising on the newspaper's front page and section fronts. But the Journal's signature “What's News” column still appears on the front page, not screaming headlines, and the distinctive, photolike sketches of newsmakers still grace the newspaper's pages, not “page 3 girls.”
When Murdoch and News Corp. took over Dow Jones, media buyers expected changes at the Journal. “Was [the change] going to affect, from a media-buying standpoint, the audience's interest in the publication?” wondered Caroline Riby, a media buyer at Roberts Communications.
After a year, it appears the changes that have been made haven't altered the perception of b-to-b advertisers that have long coveted the Journal's business- oriented audience.
“I don't think there's any reason to doubt the strength of the audience,” said Michael Paradiso, VP-global media director of CA.
“Their audience is growing,” Riby noted, “and for a paid subscription newspaper in these conditions, that's pretty amazing.”
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, said, “I don't think it's a radically different paper.”
Murdoch and News Corp. started making changes even before they took ownership of Dow Jones, announcing that Richard Zannino was out as CEO and L. Gordon Crovitz was out as publisher. Murdoch replaced these two Dow Jones veterans with his own lieutenants: Leslie Hinton as CEO and Robert Thompson as publisher.
While those moves didn't generate controversy, it was a different story when Marcus Brauchli resigned in April as the Journal's managing editor. A special oversight committee set up to protect the Journal's editorial integrity stated that it had been bypassed in the discussions that led to Brauchli's departure. But even as Thompson gave up his publisher title to succeed Brauchli as managing editor a month later, the controversy seemed to have little staying power.
Some observers have complained that the Journal's push to have more political and international news has taken resources away from the newspaper's primary focus: business news. Joe Nocera, who writes the Executive Suite blog for The New York Times, the Journal's closest newspaper competitor, has argued that the addition of coverage beyond business has made the Journal “less distinctive, less interesting and less important to its core business readership.”
But Paradiso likes the mix of politics, international news and business. “I think these days business and politics have become as one,” he said. “You can't have one without the other.” On the day last week that Paradiso made the remark, the lead headline in the Journal seemed to prove his point: “Big Three Seek $34 Billion Aid.”
Readers seem to have little objection to any shifts in editorial coverage. The Journal was one of just two daily newspapers in the top 25 to boost its circulation in the most recent report by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. Even though the increase was just 0.01% for the six months ended Sept. 30, an increase in a period in which newspapers lost an average of 4.64% in paid circulation represents a solid performance.
The Journal's audience remains one of the most desirable in the world for b-to-b marketers and is one of the reasons the newspaper has earned the top spot every year this magazine has published its Media Power 50 rankings. A sample statistic: The Journal says the average annual individual employment income of its readers is $210,300.
The Journal's enviable audience is also growing online. By making more free content available, its Web traffic in August increased 60% from a year earlier. Moreover, its total of 1.06 million online subscribers at the close of the third quarter was up 7.5% from a year earlier.
Because Dow Jones isn't broken out as a separate unit in News Corp.'s financial reporting, it's difficult to gauge how the Journal is contributing to News Corp.'s financial performance. A recent Standard & Poor's analyst note said, “Higher fiscal 2008 EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] reflected favorable currency shifts, the inclusion of Dow Jones since December 2007 and healthy performance of Australian newspapers.”
Not every financial analysis is so kind. The Deal.com reported that Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Capital, noted Dow Jones hurt its new parent company's operating income and wrote “News Corp. would have created more value for investors by donating $5.7 billion to charity than buying DJ.”
Investing in newspapers in the current climate is a risky business, but the Journal still attracts top b-to-b advertisers. Most observers agree that Murdoch and News Corp. view Dow Jones and the Journal as a long-term investment. Murdoch sees growth opportunities internationally and by linking the Journal with other News Corp. properties. For instance, Fox International Channels and the Wall Street Journal Digital Network announced an agreement earlier this year to jointly sell and promote The Wall Street Journal Americas to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking audiences in Latin America.
Additionally, there are opportunities to share content between News Corp.'s Fox Business Network and the Journal. In fact, Walter Mossberg, the Journal's tech gadget guru, has already jumped ship from CNBC to the Fox Business Network. Expect similar moves once the Journal's content sharing deal with CNBC expires in 2012. M