“More people are reading The Wall Street Journal than ever before,” said Jonathan Wright, Global Managing Director of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal.
This is no small achievement in a sector facing competition from an infinite supply of free online content. Across the globe, newspapers are folding. But The Wall Street Journal is among a handful of players bucking this trend thanks, as Wright explained, to a focus on quality, trusted journalism throughout its almost 130 years of history.
“For the time we work at this company we are mere bastions of that,” he said. “The Wall Street Journal was here long before we got here, and it will be here long after we’re gone.”
Wright said that the industry is now at a crossroads to ensure its continued commercial viability. “We are facing challenges from social media, a changing world order and technology enhancements – all of these things play a huge role in what the future of the media will look like.”
The Wall Street Journal is the flagship publication of Dow Jones, which has a range of other titles including Barron’s, a long-established financial weekly with a strong following in Asia.
The other side of Dow Jones is its professional information business. This includes Factiva, a global database of news sources, and sector-specific offerings like Dow Jones Risk & Compliance, one of its fastest growing products. So the company is already diversified, with revenue streams coming from advertising, subscriptions and the professional information business.
This is important, because ensuring a stable income amid the growth of free online content has been a stumbling block for newspapers and magazines. Publications have addressed this challenge in different ways.
“A lot of publishers made a decision over the last few decades to continue to focus on their print newsstand sales and print advertising businesses,” Wright said. “And they put their content online for free.”
The Wall Street Journal took a different approach, and has been charging for online access for more than 20 years.
“The decision was made to have a paywall, and I think that that is one of the things that has helped separate the Journal and our approach from other publications,” he said. “Our standpoint is that content is valuable. If you want it, you should pay for it.”
Another problem that has been exacerbated by the internet has been the proliferation of “fake news.” But one positive is that awareness of the issue is driving readers towards reliable sources.
“The best way to combat fake news is with professional trusted journalism,” Wright said. “And that is what we do – and what a number of our competitors do – and we are working on how to get that business model right.”
Wright pointed out that anyone can start an online news service. But to provide quality content requires a dedicated team of skilled reporters.
“I’m always humbled by what our journalists do,” he said. “We have people reporting in very dangerous parts of the world, both local and international reporters.”
It was tenacious reporting by a Wall Street Journal writer that uncovered a major scandal in the technology and healthcare sectors. Theranos had promised to revolutionize the blood-testing market, but its false claims were revealed by John Carreyrou in a series of articles.
Theranos lobbied the Journal’s owner Rupert Murdoch – who had personally invested $125 million in the company – to stop running the stories, but Murdoch refused, saying he trusted his journalists.
This is just one example of the sort of stories that emerge from investment in professional journalism.
“We have Pulitzer prize-winning content – not just on America, giving us the view of Washington and the White House – but we’ve got some of the best coverage coming out of China,” Wright said. The Journal has also received plaudits for its coverage of the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia.
“The bottom line – the fundamental beating heart of everything – is the quality of the content. Without that, the rest will fall away.”
Financial investment in professional journalism is the other key component. Good stories don’t emerge from an internet search, Wright pointed out. “You need people on the ground getting dossiers. That is crucially important, and it is expensive.”
Technology also has benefits for media companies, enabling them to offer enriched content including infographics and videos. The Wall Street Journal’s “dynamic paywall” uses data to give its readers a personalised experience.
“We always start from the central point of the customer,” Wright said. “We call our subscribers ‘members’ and we don’t do it for any glib marketing reason.”
Members get much more from their subscriptions than a newspaper to read, including access to the company’s “live journalism” events. “These are a physical manifestation of the newspaper or digital site, and they help to connect a global readership.”
The most high-level of these is the invitation-only CEO Council. Barack Obama, who had just been elected president, was the keynote speaker at the inaugural event. A few years ago, it launched in Tokyo.
“This is a big bonus for subscribers,” Wright said. “When you are invited to become a CEO Council member it gives you access to big one-day events and also a series of dinners.”
The company’s Tech D Live event gathers senior players from the technology industry to Laguna Beach in California. In recent years, it has also expanded to Asia, and will take place in Hong Kong for the third time in June.
A new addition to the company’s events line-up is The Future of Everything, which launched in New York last year with speakers including Bobbi Brown and Alex Rodriguez.
“I’d love to bring it to Asia,” Wright said. “Asia could be a good home for the festival, and expanding our events is a huge goal.”
Dow Jones has around 600 staff across Asia, including a large office in Singapore. Its head office is in Hong Kong, partly because the city has a free press. But Wright noted that the recent refusal to grant a visa to Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet is a concern, and media companies are paying attention to any developments that may restrict the freedom of journalists.
Wright moved to Hong Kong from London three years ago. His 20-year career in publishing has taken him to the U.S. as well as his native U.K., for companies including Euromoney Institutional Investor and Thomson Financial.
Wright – who produced three off-Broadway plays during his time in New York and has completed the 165-kilometre Oman Desert Marathon – said he enjoys a challenge.
“I really love doing things I’ve never done before.” So when the opportunity came up to move to Hong Kong, he and his family decided to take it. He is in charge of not just Asia, but all markets outside the U.S. – in fact, when he spoke to The Bulletin he had just returned from Latin America.
Asia is a fast-growing market for Dow Jones, and its readership has increased dramatically in the past 18 months. The company is investing in the region, including partnering with local publications and developing platforms in Chinese and Japanese.
“We want as many people as possible to read the content we produce,” Wright said. “The Chinese language and Japanese language platforms are two good examples of how we can bring it to more people.”
Company: The Wall Street Journal Asia
HKGCC Membership No.: HKW0449
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