Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

12.5.06: WSJ cuts back and calls it good news

Posted by Richard Koman - December 5, 2006

Wall Street Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz announces a new, slimmer (that is, cheaper) Journal starting Jan. 2, pushing more company news onto the website and reserving the printed paper for "what it means" stories.

Today perhaps a bit over half of our news space is devoted to exclusive, differentiated information and the rest to essentially what happened the day before. Our goal is to move to 80% exclusive news, with 20% making sure you're aware of the key developments of the previous day. Journal reporters and editors serve a community of interest -- business executives and other leaders with similar concerns -- and look forward to devoting more time and space to keeping you ahead of the news that's essential to you. Expect to see more forward-leaning coverage, with headlines featuring predictive and explanatory words like "will" and "means" and "why."

Crovitz goes on to crow about the growing importance of the website:

As the print Journal moves even more toward exclusive, "what it means" journalism, WSJ.com will be the place to go for "what's happening right now" in business and markets. The digital medium is perfect for breaking news and for delivering great depth, across media.

He is even excited about losing about one-sixth of the news hole as this will make the printed paper easier to handle.

At Slate, Jack Shaffer finds this rich - in the extreme.

It's the rare amputee who describes himself as better off without his two big toes than with them, but that's what Wall Street Journal Publisher L. Gordon Crovitz attempts today ...

Instead of leveling with his readers about the reasons behind his paper's new slim profile—to save money—Crovitz insults their intelligence by claiming the change is for the "convenience" of readers. Calling it an "easier-to-handle size," he repeats the testimony of one reader who, upon seeing a prototype of the smaller Journal, said, "I fly First Class, but when I'm reading the Journal now I knock over my neighbor's orange juice. That won't happen anymore."

People have been flying first class and reading their Wall Street Journals for more than a half century. Suddenly the size is a problem? Doesn't Crovitz understand that he's writing for one of the most business-literate audiences in the nation, and that they roll their eyes when a manufacturer says he shrank the product for the benefit of the customer?

While the Journal's advertising revenues are a rare bright spot in major newspapering, the rest of its numbers show the move is all about economics, The Times' Katie Hafner reports. The Journal's department, Dow Jones Consumer Media, lost money last year. Circulation is down 2% for the six-month period ending in September, compared to the previous period. And the cost savings from the scaleback are of a piece with others: closing the Canadian bureau, relying more on DJ wire stories, and scaling back international editions to tabloids.

“People at The Journal are very concerned about quality,” said E. S. Browning, a reporter who covers the financial markets and is chairman of the union bargaining committee that represents Journal employees.

“Lopping a column off the paper is not a quality move,” he said. “It will be harder to do long-form journalism when there is less space on Page One.”

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