While other newspapers have been arguing about web first policies for news, the Wall Street Journal has been planning to go a step further: news on the web only.
The announcement of the redesign which will hit the news-stands on January 2 reveals a paper which will cut the news content substantially. The paper itself will be about a sixth smaller, saving on print costs.
In a letter to readers L Gordon Crovirz, the publisher, wrote that the changes would provide:
Much more of the exclusive coverage you expect from the Journal, including what the news means, not just what happened the day before; a more convenient print Journal, in a handier format and with improved navigation; and better alignment between the print Journal and the Wall Street Journal Online so that you can use both versions for what each does best.
The idea is that the routine news is best provided via the web and the printed edition should have differentiated “only-in-the-Journal” content providing much more focus on “what the rush of news really means”.
The goal is to move to 80% of exclusive news although this seems to include analysis, explanation and prediction. Just 20% will be devoted to the traditional mainstay of reporting; what happened yesterday.
And to provide a “better fit” the online WSJ (800,000 subscribers) will concentrate on “what is happening now” while leaving “what it means” to the paper.
Jack Shafer at Slate has been acidic in his comment, writing:
It’s the rare amputee who describes himself as better off without his two big toes than with them, but that’s what Wall Street Journal Publisher L. Gordon Crovitz attempts…
He points out that the loss of 3 inches in width is the same as other US papers have done to cut costs and continues:
Instead of leveling with his readers about the reasons behind his paper’s new slim profileâ€”to save moneyâ€”Crovitz insults their intelligence by claiming the change is for the “convenience” of readers. Calling it an “easier-to-handle size,” he repeats the testimony of one reader who, upon seeing a prototype of the smaller Journal, said, “I fly First Class, but when I’m reading the Journal now I knock over my neighbor’s orange juice. That won’t happen anymore.”
I would not know about the un-neighbourly habits of businessmen flying first class, but it is an interesting development. Making the assumption that readers will get breaking news from the web but want explanation and comment on more comfortably read paper makes a lot of sense.
But whether it is a viable business model, even for a paper as different as the WSJ, we will only see next year.