Wall Street Journal’s new content strategy and what brands can learn from it

Consolidation in print isn’t anything new to the market. We’ve seen a number of publications do that in recent years, but what’s interesting is the way these established publications are approaching content, given the digital-first strategy.

Most recently, The Wall Street Journal intensified its push for international growth with the launch of new, enhanced global print and digital editions in Europe and Asia first announced in June this year.

With a broadsheet format mirroring the US edition, the title will see a circulation from Monday through to Friday, expanded in both size and scope, and a wider and more diverse selection of the Journal’s peerless reporting, insight and analysis.

While the Journal will now be globally consistent in style and sections, regionally relevant content available throughout each day’s paper will be curated for readers in separate Europe and Asia editions.

Distribution of the print editions will focus on key cities closely aligned to the Journal’s business-oriented readership, while the revamped digital offerings will offer an improved mobile experience to readers around the world.

All content will be available via the expanded regional iPad and Android editions, also launching today, marking a strengthened global digital presence for the Journal.

Now, there are some important lessons in there for brands which are serious about content marketing.

Metrics – what to measure

At a time when different digital metrics are cropping up, how does WSJ ensure it is looking at the right metrics for its content? What is the objective of the editorial team? Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, said dwell time was perhaps the most important as it showed how engaged the audience was.

“The grubby commercial reality is that if readers spend time, it maximises the exposure ads on our site gets,” he said. However, he added dwell time was not the sole metric WSJ refers to.

There are page views, social shares and other metrics. The main website is seeing a majority of the traffic come in through search and social and not the home page.

“We are looking at ways to engage the audience through these channels and once they are in our website we need to look at ways to keep them engaged again,” Baker said.

In fact, WSJ recently promoted managing editor and Journal veteran Yumiko Ono to the role of Asia audience engagement editor. What this role effectively does is to drive subscriber outreach and retention, along with attracting new audiences, by understanding audience behaviour on the platform.

But it’s not always about traffic

On an individual reporter basis, there is an art and science to measuring success. A reporter getting a lot of traffic for his/her stories isn’t necessarily better than the others, Paul Beckett, Asia editor of WSJ, explained.

“We want traffic to our site for sure, but we want reporters who are best at their beats and that is not dependent on how many clicks your story got, but how many times you beat the competition with correct, factual and objective reporting,” he said.

Digital has made news a 24-hour business and news titles are constantly gathering, chasing and sharing news.

“We are in world where everyone is reporter. As journalists we are very much a part of that extraordinary amount of action. But we not only have to break news for our subscribers first, but also be factually correct,” Beckett said.

Even when we are competing in the digital space – producing videos, tweeting, getting on the news wire more quickly than ever before – we have to get the story right.

And here’s how it pays off

Now this is not something brands looking into brand journalism genuinely prioritise because selling a product is the end-goal, but how important being objective in your content is, is reflected by what WSJ’s Baker has to say about the difference between news and opinion and the rise of citizen journalism.

Baker said it was impossible to be 100% objective, but the editorial team at WSJ was aware and made serious efforts to keep the two biases at bay. Reporting bias – where the story is skewed in one direction politically or otherwise – and selection bias in the way it chooses what is interesting.

A model unique to WSJ, Baker said, was the strict separation of its news pages and opinion pages.

“We do not have the same people making the decisions,” Baker said.

“The opinion pages have a very strong ideological outlook, are very conservative, robust articulate. That’s what makes the Journal stand out.”

However, organisationally, the editor for the opinion pages reports directly to the CEO just as Baker does.

“That’s a very rare structure, but a testament of the Journal’s desire of achieving the best possible objective reporting in its newspapers.”

Likewise, when it comes to citizen journalism, the Journal doesn’t see that as a threat. There is an awareness that every consumer is a source of information in this age of connectivity, but this democratisation of news is good for established brands as it presents an opportunity to cement their brand as the trusted source.

“I think the very explosion of sources of news makes the premium value of reliable news that much greater. People see so much information, they almost immediately look for the source they trust,” Baker said.

Be the source people trust. If you can position yourself as that, it will help you retain your audience even amidst the informational avalanche.

As a news organisation, WSJ relies on the public for tips and leads and encourages people to do so, but it does not see value in totally relying on citizen journalism.

“And that is not because we are smarter, but our readers expect our content to be rigorously checked, properly edited and gone through robust testing. Citizen journalism doesn’t go through the same process and readers know that,” he said.

Videos, visuals and interactivity

The WSJ has a large team in Hong Kong and other markets of Asia churning out content for this region.

“The era of waiting for New York to wake up is gone. Hong Kong is producing material for the region at a time that best suits the audience here,” Beckett says.

And it’s not just text. Digital has presented an opportunity to engage the audience in various ways, especially through graphics and videos and other interactive features.

“Digital platforms to us now is what colour TV was for radio,” Beckett said. The possibilities are endless.

And therefore, innovate

One way WSJ is innovating is through 3D and virtual reality, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones.

“We are beginning to use these technologies to make interacting with the WSJ more unique and immersive. These are powerful ways of visualising content or experiencing our events and will be made available globally, soon,” he said.

Content wise, everything it does now is optimised for smartphones. It has revamped its apps and is innovating in the way news is presented, interpreting data in a much more meaningful way.

Recently, it announced tying up with Apple to provide news-related content for the Apple news app. The app which is expected to launch soon will come preloaded on the company’s new operating system iOS 9.

It recently launched WSJ Pro with WSJ Pro Central Banking, the first of what will be a premium suite of industry and subject-specific content services, combining news, data and events in a single membership platform.

Proprietary central banking content and tools available to members via the WSJ Pro web portal will draw on the expertise of the Journal’s global team of leading central bank journalists, offering essential news and insight on the Federal Reserve and other global central banks, a wider analysis of global monetary policy and economics, as well as the data that drives policy decisions.

“This and many more such innovations are in the pipeline for us,” Baker said.