January 5th, 2007

The Print WSJ Is Only A Shadow Of Its Former Self


I just got my hands on the new version of the Wall Street Journal, which is one column inch smaller — seeing the physically shrunk paper is jarring — it’s tangible evidence that newspapers are slowly fading into history. Much as I wanted to assess the new design — and I’m sure there is real value in the new focus on analysis and perspective — I just couldn’t get past the smallness of it, so glaringly a shadow of its former self.

So much of old media is engaged in a thinly veiled effort to keep up appearances, because they can’t simply replace the old with the new. As Jeff Jarvis observed, in disagreeing with my prediction that a major print publication would move to web-only publishing this year:

It will come, but not yet, for there is still profit to be made in print and sluggish advertisers still aren’t ready to support the new medium — even if that’s where their customers are — and shut-down costs remain high.

That I still receive the print edition of the WSJ is a farce — when I called to renew my subscription, I was told that it was actually cheaper to get both the print and online editions than the online edition alone — and then I suddenly started receiving the print edition at home as well! That kind of blind subsidization can’t last.

This post should prompt me to finally getting around to halting that waste of paper, even if it means paying more. Eventually, publishers will get around to it as well.

  • A print reader for years (but online with all my other news sources), I find the new WSJ redesign a huge improvement. Both in size, maneuverability, layout, less and smarter jumps, new typeface, bolder headlines, better page hierarchies (including nice, pithy summaries), some shuffling of the Opinion section.

    I like how they've differentiated to be more about not just the news but analysis ("what it means") versus just the commodity business of reporting what you can get from any wire service. They are focusing on the strength and further separating themselves from the pack. They did a nice insert all about the redesign, how it was all customer-centered improvements... not sure if that bit made it online but it was very thoughtful and I agreed with most of their changes. Hats off to WSJ for keeping print relevant, it's the only newspaper I'll pay for anymore.

    Oh I also read the page size choice not only saves on newsprint but makes it easier and more global for them to use other presses, more like getting inline with an emerging standard. As a commuter on very crowded Chicago trains I've also found it more practical to unfurl. The total reduction in "amount" of copy is small when weighed with the other improvements.

    While I agree the overall newspaper biz is tanking, WSJ took huge steps to stay relevant and actually improve theirs by focusing on their strengths and what makes them worth paying for in the first place.

  • John O.

    I will say that I have been singularly unimpressed with WSJ On-line over the years. I was an early subscriber, let my subscription lapse and was lured to re-subscribe a year ago. The intervening period was probably 2 years and I saw not one new feature on the site when I re-subscribed. And usability was poor. In the same period, the NYT deployed Times Select, fairly granular RSS feeds, Podcasts, alerts all of which put them ahead of most of their competition.

    I know your post is about the print edition of the WSJ, but if print is fading, the WSJ On-line has a loong way to go as in my view.

  • Derick Harris

    There seems to be a disconnect here between two separate things: (a) the matter of whether WSJ is becoming physically smaller, and will [therefore] wither away from the standpoint of content given The Internet; or (b) or whether that newspaper is merely adapting to a technological transformation, in this instance The Web and, therefore the issue of content is moot. Here's why I say this.

    (1) We always pour the content of the old into the new. This was as true of Vaudeville as it is of the Wall Street Journal. Word-of-mouth folk tales became printed narratives; books became movies; movies became television, television became cable with broadband - and broadband distribution is gradually transforming content via The Web.

    (2) In other words each new transformation anticipates the next one from the standpoint of content.

    (3) Generally speaking it takes at least a decade for new content forms to in effect catch up with (or figure out how to adapt to) the narrative possibilities that are feasible with each new transformation.

    (4) Accordingly, when we speak of "the look" or "the feel" of something that apparently has transformed itself to (try to) adapt to new technology, all we are really doing is walking backward into the future in terms of our apprehensions about what constitutes content.

    (5) Number 4 (above) is the "rear view mirror" effect that apparently makes us confuse the menu with the dinner; i.e., the package with the thing or the content itself.

    (6) For those reasons speculations about whether WSJ or any other doable vessel for sending and receiving content will disappear - are pointless - when what one is really talking about is technology.

    (7) It is unlikely that business-related newspapering in general will cease. WSJ is, after all, nothing more nor less than a brand. The information remains and, thus, an argument as to whether the Wall Street Journal can survive given the Internet is as pointless as were the more recent prognostications ©. 1950s) that television would eliminate radio.

    (8) We already know that content transformations are not only normal, but that they should be expected given the intervention of new technologies, such as, for example, web logs. The packaging might be different and, indeed, even the economics of scale.
    But the content, as content, "persists". All that the technology does is to is precipitate changes in form(s).

    (9) Therefore, in terms of content - i.e., WSJ is only a shadow of its former self - please clarify the issues before speculating as to whether the WSJ brand name or even the package it comes in will persist because of the Web. Without clarification the argument is at best moot. Prognostications about content, as if it was packaging, are a waste of time.

  • I love the smaller format. The smaller page size is an improvement, making the paper easier to read, and by no longer publishing page after page of market data that is readily available on the web, the WSJ will help their bottom line, making it easier to survive the pressures facing all the MSM, and I don't have as much paper to throw in the recycling bin every day.

    I also like the new emphasis on analysis and in-depth articles -- that's exactly the type of information I don't enjoy reading on the web, and which I do enjoy reading in an armchair while sipping a beer.

  • Scott - So you are saying that your reaction to the size of the new paper has clouded your view of the changes they are trying to make? With so much change going on in the news industry, I would think that tradition for its own sake has less meaning, and less value for journalism and the reader.

    To me, the print edition of the journal is a great form factor because I read it on a very crowded train into Manhattan each morning. I blogged about my reaction to the redesigned Journal earlier in the week.

    Huge fan of your site - keep up the great work!

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