Print Journal eyes tomorrow’s news today

Newspapers questioning their reason for being need only take their cues from Dow Jones & Co.’s Wall Street Journal, as the nation’s No. 1 business broadsheet is three weeks shy of a radical makeover.

With the Internet usurping the newspaper’s role – news of the day – the newspaper has to don someone else’s cloak, such as the magazine’s analytical, interpretive approach. So the Journal is redefining business journalism the best way it can: by the way it reports.

“Print focuses more on forward-looking news, online on what’s happening now,” L. Gordon Crovitz, publisher of the Journal, told reporters last week at a media briefing in New York.

Starting Jan. 2, 80 percent of the Journal’s coverage will be trends-based, interpretative reporting with analysis. Disclosure news and announcements will be squeezed into shorter articles on the remaining pages. Mr. Crovitz said to expect more “will” and “why” in the headlines.

This is a major change from the 50:50 ratio of analysis and yesterday’s news as practiced today on the Journal.

The Wall Street Journal Online will become the news hound, reporting daily news. With 800,000 subscribers, the site at already has a larger circulation than the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times or the Chicago Tribune. Dow Jones Newswires, and the publisher’s offerings for the BlackBerry and other handheld devices will support with active daily news coverage.

These changes relate to the consumer’s evolving media consumption habits in the past decade. The expectation now is to get the news whenever, wherever and however the consumer wants to read, watch or hear it. But being channel agnostic is not for Mr. Crovitz. Each Journal offering serves a different purpose.

“We want people to access the Journal throughout the day,” he said, “the newspaper in the morning, BlackBerry on the go and online throughout the day.”

Other elements of the makeover include cutting its web width to 48 inches, saving the Journal $18 million a year in paper and printing costs. The paper loses 10 percent of its news hole to that change.

The slimmer cut will affect the way the Journal is folded – if it can be at all. No longer will ads hide behind the fold. Such increased visibility should enthuse advertisers. As for advertising, the most revolutionary change for the Journal’s U.S. edition is the spot for a display ad on the bottom right of the front page.

In other alterations, the Journal font size will be slightly bigger. Also, the “What’s News” column moves to the two columns on the front page’s left. And the banner above the Journal logo on page 1 is more contemporary and almost European in feel.

The Journal will retain its long-length journalism. But the front page stories will be reduced to five, jumping together to a page before the editorial. Also, stories within the paper will jump to the following page.

These changes, with the help of design consultant Mario Garcia, extend to the inside pages. The Journal will use infographics and news summary boxes extensively. And the “What’s News” philosophy of news bites will expand to inner pages for readers who want a fast run of the paper.

“[Journal readers] are the most demanding, knowledgeable and impatient group of people I’ve ever come across in my life,” Mr. Garcia said at the media briefing.

Focus groups suggest the Journal’s changes may gain market acceptance. The publisher soon will launch a mentoring program with banks and major corporations to get their young employees to read the paper. It also will distribute 500,000 copies for free on newsstands Jan. 2 as a sampling measure.

Print subscribers to the Journal will get a free trial of the online version Jan. 2. It helps to cross promote with the online Journal, which soon will get a new market data center. Combined, the print and online Journals have 2.1 million paid subscribers.

“We have a strong commitment to print even as we move aggressively online,” Mr. Crovitz said.

Essentially, the Journal is making itself more attractive in appearance; taking a second-day coverage approach to first-day news; and trying to appeal to a younger, more demanding audience as well as more women.

And yes, the Journal is raising ad rates, albeit less than the 6 percent increase in readership it claims for the print edition.

Mr. Crovitz and Journal managing editor Paul E. Steiger, a 40-year company veteran, made clear that these changes in the 117-year-old paper will make it relevant to the times and its demands.

“I’m the last person in America with newspaper publisher in his title who’s optimistic,” Mr. Crovitz said.

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