For over a year, a special team of editors within The Wall Street Journal analyzed the state of the newsroom and produced a detailed, lengthy report on what the paper is doing right, and, more important, what the paper is doing wrong.
The stakes are high. 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, called The Content Review, concluded that that goal would be difficult without sweeping changes.
The Journal, it said, needs to rethink how it gathers news, what kinds of topics it covers and who its audience is. The report was intended to serve as a blueprint for how the paper should remake itself for the digital age and insure its future.
But the company has effectively shelved the report, which was completed last summer; most people in the newsroom have not seen it.
What follows are some of the specific findings.
Change is hard in any news organization. In the case of The Journal, “the barrier, we quickly found, was fear.”
The paper needs to overcome its anxiety and become “an audience-focused newsroom,” the report said, a step that many other papers and digital publishers have already taken.
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Section One: The Mission and The Audience
The Journal needs to find better ways to connect with its audiences instead of relying on what the report calls its “heavy readers,” the hard-nosed executives, intense Wall Street traders and retirees who make up a bulk of its audience.
Subsisting on this group alone has created a traffic ceiling. The paper can’t seem to break the barrier of 50 million readers a month when it needs twice that amount.
Section Two: Recommendations
The Journal needs new readers — specifically, women, people of color and younger professionals.
But reaching those people will be tough given “the lack of focus on diversity within our coverage,” according to the study.
The report found that over a three-month period, of the 108 lead stories it published “only one had race as the main topic.” It added: “None had gender as the main topic, and none had L.G.B.T.Q.-specific issues as the main topic of the story. As far as the protagonist of a story — many of our stories do not have human protagonists. But when they did, we found that 13 percent were people of color.”
A lack of digital expertise is an underlying problem, the report said. “We need editors to more actively take into account Google Trends and Google Suggestions in story assigning and encourage people to do so within their beats and columns,” it offered as an example.
The bulk of this section also outlined specific recommendations, such as improving “wellness coverage,” while discouraging “earnings” stories, a category that often “underperforms on page views.”
Section Three: Coverage Goals
The report laid out in stark terms how much more traffic and engagement each department will have to deliver to hit The Journal’s target of 100 million monthly readers. The report added that the paper needed to reach 55 million readers a month over the next year. Spread over its six main coverage areas — corporate, Washington, arts, finance, national, international — each department, it said, will “need to bring in about 1.9 million more nonsubscribers above where we were last Fall.”