Emily Tan
Oct 22, 2013

Gerard Baker on evolving Dow Jones into a 'digital native'—fast

HONG KONG – Since he took on the role of editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal in January, Gerard Baker has been taking steps to safeguard the future of Dow Jones' stable of financial titles.

Gerard Baker
Gerard Baker

In May, Dow Jones launched DJX, a wire service that gives subscribers a two-minute head start on news broken by The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones reporters. The service, which takes a direct swipe at rival Bloomberg, was a precursor to the merger of Dow Jones Newswires with The WSJ’s newsroom in June.

“By bringing the two sides together we ensure we have a stronger product to offer the business consumer, and this also makes us somewhat unique in the media environment in that we have a B2B newswire and a print [publication],” Baker said in an interview in the company's Hong Kong office.

The move also created the impression that it would help the guardians of the WSJ divorce themselves from the print legacy of the 124-year-old title. “We’re all newspaper people, culturally attuned to the rhythms and sensibilities of the traditional newspaper," Baker said. "But we’ve been trying hard over the past 20 years to have all the characteristics of digital natives—such as Huffington Post and BuzzFeed—although we really are digital immigrants.”

The “single global newsroom” is a move in that direction, as is the ongoing [email protected] (digital journalists at Dow Jones) training programme. For while WSJ has been better off than most papers (with a print circulation of  about 1.5 million, it is still the largest print paper in the US), Baker acknowledged that ad revenues for the print title are declining as expected. “We’re down about 10 per cent in the last 10 years,” he said.

Although the title’s digital advertising and subscription revenues have been steadily rising, print still holds the lion’s share of the pie. “I expect the lines will cross soon though,” said Baker adding that he could not provide specific breakdowns.

Figures by the Alliance for Audited Media, however, place WSJ’s digital circulation numbers at 898,102 at the end of March 2013, up from 522,288 in March the year before. Combined with print numbers, this brings WSJ’s US circulation to 2.4 million. In Asia, the paper reports a print circulation of about 83,000.

To continue to reach readers, WSJ has been experimenting with different formats and social-media platforms. The paper has a Pinterest page with nearly 45,000 followers, LinkedIn communities and Tweeting journalists.

While in the past WSJ has allowed its journalists and social-media teams to experiment on an informal basis, this experimentation is due to become part of the paper’s strategy with the pending launch of a new team dedicated to exploring these new avenues of communication, Baker said.

What he's really interested in however, is building a private social network or community for WSJ readers. "One more directly productive than say, LinkedIn, which is huge and successful but still primarily aimed at recruitment," Baker said. To that end, Dow Jones is about to launch DJ Chat, which Baker insists is not aimed at competing directly with Bloomberg's instant messaging service or Reuters' open-chat-with-banks network the Markit Collaboration Services.

The launch will have room for advertisers, Baker promised. "We've got content, community and data—of course there will be ways of monetising that."

Another area of significant growth, Baker said, will be mobile, on which advertising will be run both as content and in unique formats. At present the WSJDN (which includes Barrons and MarketWatch) Tablet App has been downloaded more than 4.6 million times and its smartphone app more than 4.3 million times. “We’re working on developing a whole new look for mobile advertising, as I’m sure our competitors are too,” he said.

Despite earlier reports to the contrary, Baker isn’t against native advertising, provided the distinction between editorial and advertising content remains clear. “People trust us, we have to be careful," he said. "We’re perfectly happy for our custom-publishing teams to work with advertisers to create better content, but let me be clear, our editorial [staff] is not involved and the reader must be absolutely clear on the difference.”

Dow Jones has also been pumping resources into building out its expertise in technology and video, Baker added. With the pending split with AllThingsD at the end of the year, the WSJ has been working hard to build up its technology coverage and video programme. “We’re planning to roll out Digits, a programme filmed right here in Hong Kong, with input from around the world,” Baker disclosed.

Although nothing formal has been announced, WSJ subscribers can anticipate a major revamp of the paper’s digital properties to better reflect mobile consumption of content and mobile advertising. “Advertisers are changing the way they get their message across using the vehicle of traditional media organisations. The WSJ can offer them a bigger, more affluent, higher-quality audience than any other news organisation in the world, I’d argue.”

The new overhaul, Baker implied, may draw closer to the title’s “Real-Time” sites created for China, India, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia, which are managed on WordPress. “It was felt that it was a more digitally native way of reaching readers and has drawn significant traffic numbers," he said. "These are not second-class-citizen WSJ sites.”

Paul Beckett, Asia Editor for WSJ, added that the sites have been very accessible, fast, digital-friendly platforms that would have been hard to replicate on the “vast architecture” of WSJ.com.

Whatever WSJ has planned, Baker promises to be tweeting ‘regularly’ about it. Admitting he has a Twitter account he doesn’t use enough (actually, he has zero Tweets) he hinted that “something interesting” would be taking place in the next few weeks that would involve him “Tweeting regularly and communicating more directly with subscribers and users”.

The message that needs to go out to the staff of Dow Jones, concluded Baker, is that it has to transform—and urgently. “We’ve made great strides and have great digital products, but we have to become a great digital organisation, and that involves changing our culture as well. We have to move quickly and we’re going to."

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