60 focus groups
Their plans are still evolving -- 20 focus groups have been conducted, and another 60 are scheduled to take place once the next Journal prototype arrives in June. But one thing's for sure: Journal 3.0 will take its cues from the Internet. The newspaper has run The Wall Street Journal Online for 10 years, and the new print edition takes into account how the Web version continues to change consumers' expectations.
And that reflects a growing and welcome effort among publishers to mine the particular advantages of Web surfing for application to the printed page.
Need to embrace Web
"I've been saying this for a while now, but print -- newspapers especially -- needs to embrace marriage with the Web to remain viable and dynamic," said Eric Blankfein, senior VP-director of communication-channel planning at Horizon Media. "The fact that The Wall Street Journal is a successful paid site lends itself to the daily adopting certain elements in order to remain fresh. This is likely a good example of a newspaper merging assets in order to make both products more valuable to advertisers and readers alike."
In an interview at The Journal's headquarters in downtown Manhattan, Mr. Crovitz told Advertising Age he felt confident -- for a newspaper executive. The print edition's most recent paid-circulation report showed a 1% decline, but it still managed to post seven consecutive months of ad-revenue gains. The Journal also has increased first-quarter ad revenue by a hefty 18% -- the highest increase in two years. The online edition has added 30,000 subscribers in the past year, reaching 761,000.
Mr. Crovitz declined to guarantee a smooth road ahead, but what is clear is the importance of the print edition's redesign.
The smaller-format print Journal, due in January, probably will add versions of the front-page "What's News" column, which summarizes news and directs readers inside for more details on many stories, to other sections of the paper. Given the digital era's barrage of news from all sides and sources, the paper probably will devote more space to "what it means" articles and less to simple "what happened" pieces. And themed content, which Journal research suggests both advertisers and readers like, may play a bigger role.
"Navigation and being able to benefit from content in context are very much themes of the digital age," said Mr. Crovitz, who is also exec VP at Dow Jones, The Journal's owner. "There is a great opportunity for the newspaper to help us overcome information overload by helping us, once a day, put the content in context."
"We're looking at ways to highlight news that is coming up that has not occurred yet to give people some perspective when they hear it that day," Mr. Crovitz added.
Digital distribution platforms
The Journal is still working on the digital side, where publishers can perhaps best meet consumer demands for content whenever and however they want it. "We have in the works some new distribution on cellphones across media -- not just text, but audio and visual as well," Mr. Crovitz said.
Other big papers also are applying the Web-gleaned insights to print. Gannett's USA Today, for example, plans to begin including excerpts from its On Deadline blog in the print edition, said Kinsey Wilson, one of two executive editors there. One part of the blog, "Looking Ahead," will serve in print as a guide to upcoming events, while another will round up other outlets' news coverage in true blog fashion.
Furthermore, earlier this month The New York Times shut down the weekly TV guide it once distributed in New York City editions and beefed up its TV listings online.
Print buyers said they welcome that kind of thinking -- particularly in lieu of pessimism on print.
George Janson, managing partner and director of print, Mediaedge:cia, said no one should forget where the news sites came from. "Shouldn't the question be: What's print's influence on the Web?" he asked. "There would be no online edition if it weren't for the brick-and-mortar version."
But he acknowledged that printed pages and interactive screens can and should enhance one another. "There is a multitude of ways that print and online versions can supplement rather than supplant one another," he said.