The WSJ's silver bullet in grabbing audience

Having juggled the roles of editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal for almost a year, Gerard Baker’s biggest accomplishment yet is the merging of the institutional-focused news wire and the latter consumer-oriented publication.

Aside from eliminating the existing duplication of manpower, Baker said the biggest goal of this six-month process is to fuse the in-depth reporting skills of the newspaper with Dow Jones’s inherent real-time immediacy – an essential edge to winning in a hostile environment where mainstream media is threatened not only by its direct competitors, but also by forums and social media outlets.

Yet, in the race against time, Baker admits that The Wall Street Journal has advantages as a paid subscription with an educated readership and a history of 124 years.

“In a world where digital news is produced by the second, not all of it is necessarily reliable: yes, it’s very lively, fast and readable, but not very reliable.

Our readers are interested in much more valuable and interesting stories than Cyrus wiggling her bottom

“That’s where our strength comes in, we analyse and put the issue into our view, and we do it in a way people trust,” he said, adding mal-reported incidents like Associate Press’s story on the White House explosion and the false allegations of the Boston Bombings’ criminals “call for accuracy”.

“There’s no doubt there’s this determination and eagerness for news to go out first; but where we have an edge is that people do rely on us – given that we’ve been around for so many years and are catered to a more business-oriented audience. So, of course, we try to be accurate and first; but we’d never substitute accuracy for speed.”

Moreover, his sophisticated readers also let Baker get away from putting Miley Cyrus’s questionable dance moves on the front page.

“It’s not just the number of eyeballs that matter, but the sophistication of these eyeballs; and our readers are interested in much more valuable and interesting stories than Cyrus wiggling her bottom.”

Though The Wall Street Journal has had a custom content team, which helps clients create and tweak their campaigns to its readers’ flavour, for 15 years in London and New York and is in the process of hiring in Hong Kong, Baker insists that its editorial and sales divide is very clear.

Despite his eagerness to work with businesses and that he welcomes whatever technology to better the user experience, he has one principle: “there can’t be any confusion between editorial and ad.”

“If you think about it, it’s self defeating: advertisers want to associate with The Wall Street Journal because of our integrity and because they know the readers who are paying money to read our content are usually high-quality eyeballs; but if we begin to leave readers in doubt as to what is journalism, then they’re going to undermine the content.”

As The Wall Street Journal celebrates its 125th anniversary next year, Baker said the biggest challenge for the publication is still the road to digitisation, such as extending the current limit of 10 stories displayed on the mobile site, as well as incorporating discussion groups and building a community among its readers.

“Right now, the world is divided between digital immigrants and digital natives: eventually, digital natives will take over so we have to look at our processes, structures and incentives to cater to this up-and-coming audience.”