Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Why The Wall Street Journal is Cutting Print Sections and Refocusing on its Core Coverage"

From NiemanLab, Nov. 14:

Editor-in-chief Gerard Baker says the paper, which confronted a 21 percent decrease in advertising revenue in the most recent quarter, is trying to attract subscribers.
If you’re a Wall Street Journal print subscriber, you might notice that Monday morning’s paper looked a bit different. As part of an effort to cut costs in response to plummeting ad revenue, the Journal debuted today a reformatted print edition that eliminates and combines some sections.
The Journal is introducing a “Business & Finance” section that combines its previously separate Business & Tech and Money & Investing sections. It’s also folded the Personal Journal and Arena sections into a Life & Arts pages that will be included in the A section. The Journal also eliminated its standalone Greater New York section, folding that into the A section as well.

“Both driven by the need to look at how we can reduce costs and keep the paper on a sustainable economic footing, but also by taking the opportunity to produce a more cohesive and logical structure to the paper — that’s what drove us to do this,” Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker told me in an interview last week.

The Journal’s advertising revenue fell 21 percent in its most recent quarter, the paper’s parent, News Corp., said last week. The company said that “digital” accounted for 55 percent of Dow Jones revenue in the quarter. (News Corp. posted a loss of $15 million in the quarter.)

As part of the restructuring, the Journal laid off the Greater New York Staff, which reportedly included at least 19 union employees. Last month, the paper also offered voluntary buyouts. Four hundred and fifty union-represented employees were offered the buyout, and 48 accepted the offer, according to the union. 
In our conversation, Baker and I (with a Journal spokesperson listening in) discussed the changes coming to the Journal, how the paper is trying to grow its subscriber base, and what it’s like to manage a newsroom during a period of cuts. Here’s a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.  
Joseph Lichterman: A lot of the changes were laid out in the memo you sent, but to start, I was hoping you could tell me a bit about the thinking behind the decisions you made.
Gerard Baker: We’ve been thinking about the whole structure and presentation of the print paper for awhile. Obviously, we make quite a lot of changes to it over the years — adding sections, subtracting sections, consolidating, changing the names, and that kind of stuff — and we’ve been thinking that it’s time for a refresh.

Obviously, I won’t pretend that this didn’t become more pressing with the decline in print advertising. You know all about that. We’ve seen that very sharp decline this year. News Corp. said the other day in its earnings report that overall advertising fell 21 percent at the Journal in this third calendar quarter — that’s our first fiscal quarter. We didn’t break out the print number, but that’s a significant overall decline in advertising. So we think that we’ve probably seen this year a significant overall decline in print advertising that is probably sustained at a new lower level. That gave additional context to our rethinking of what the print edition should be.

What I wanted to do was to create a print edition that would be placed on a sustainable footing, stable financial footing in an era of significantly lower print advertising. If you look at the print edition from 15 years ago, it was much thicker. There was much more advertising in that paper. I think we all acknowledge we’re in an era where we’re not going to have that level of print advertising. I think it was right to get a print product that could be, as I say, durable and sustainable in an era of print advertising. So that led us to think about the whole way in which we present the paper. I’ve always been keen to perhaps a more coherent presentation of the various areas and various sections with in the paper.
Business & Finance, we already do that on Saturday. The Business & Finance section is a consolidation of both Business & Tech coverage and financial coverage — that is, Money & Investing — which are the current two sections Monday through Friday. I always thought there was a logic to having those two sections put together. There are some savings associated with that too — there are additional costs associated with printing separate sections. Putting those two together made absolute sense to have those topics covered in one section in a more coherent way. The back page of Business & Finance will be the lead page, if you like, for financial coverage, with the big market story with Heard on the Street. Inside on the back, all our financial coverage, and inside from the front, a mixture of business and financial coverage. I like the coherence of that, which brings those two together in a more naturally unified way.
Then, as we looked elsewhere, we looked at Personal Journal, which appears currently three days a week as a separate section, and Arena. So, again, looking to consolidate that — looking to make savings, frankly, some cost savings. We could bring those two together and put them in a unified section that we will call Life & Art, which will be four sections Monday through Friday in the A section of the paper. Again, it makes sense for that to be within the main body of the paper. There’s a logic to having it there. That was the overall thinking, that the paper would become a more concise, sharper paper, which will be two sections three days a week — that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday — three sections on Monday and Friday. Most Mondays, there will be a Journal Reports, which is a special topics section, and then on Friday the Mansion section will be the third section. Saturdays we leave as it is — the main news section, Business & Finance, Review, and Off Duty, as well as the magazine, of course....