The Wall Street Journal’s Internal Audit

For over a year, a dedicated editorial team at the Wall Street Journal analyzed the condition of the newsroom and produced a detailed, in-depth report on what the paper is doing right and, more importantly, what the paper is doing wrong.

There is a lot at stake. Subscriptions to The Journal are growing – but not fast enough. News Corp, the company that owns The Journal, wants the broadsheet to double its readership. The study, titled The Content Review, concluded that this goal would be difficult without major changes.

The journal needs to rethink how it collects news, what topics it covers and who its audience is. The report was intended to serve as a template for how paper should reshape itself for the digital age and secure its future.

But the company effectively put the report, which was finalized last summer, on hold. Most of the people in the newsroom didn’t see it.

What follows are some of the specific results.

Change is difficult in any news organization. In The Journal’s case, “the barrier we quickly found was fear.”

The newspaper needs to overcome its fear and become an “audience-centric newsroom,” the report says, a move many other newspapers and digital publishers have already taken.

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Updated

April 9, 2021, 3:29 p.m. ET

What content review is all about.

The journal needs to find better ways to connect with its audiences rather than relying on what the report calls its “strong readers,” the die-hard executives, heavy-hitting Wall Street traders and retirees who make up much of its audience turn off.

A traffic ceiling was set simply by the existence of this group. The paper doesn’t seem to break the 50 million monthly readership barrier when it needs twice as much.

Who is the journal’s audience?

The journal needs new readers – especially women, people of color and younger professionals.

However, according to the study, it will be difficult to reach these people as “diversity is not the focus of our reporting”.

The report found that of the 108 lead stories published over a three-month period, “only had one race as the main theme”. It added, “Nobody had gender as the main theme and none had LGBTQ-specific issues as the main theme of the story. As for the protagonist of a story, many of our stories do not have human protagonists. But when they did that, we found that 13 percent were black people. “

A lack of digital expertise is a fundamental problem, the report said. “We need editors who are more active in using Google Trends and Google Suggestions when assigning stories and who encourage people to do so within their beats and columns,” it says as an example.

Most of this section also gave specific recommendations such as: For example, improving “wellness coverage” while discouraging “win” stories, a category that often “underperforms” “page views”.

What the journal should and shouldn’t do.

The report made it clear how much more traffic and engagement each department would need to deliver in order to meet the journal’s goal of 100 million monthly readers. The report added that the newspaper must reach 55 million readers a month over the next year. Spread across the six main coverage areas – Corporate, Washington, Arts, Finance, National, International – each department needs to “bring about 1.9 million more non-subscribers to where we were last fall.”

What The Journal editors need to know.

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