Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Why is the WSJ the #1 Newspaper in America? (It's not because of its politics.)


** On October 26, 2009, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) finally reached the top of the newspaper world.

** As expected, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), announced that the WSJ is now the highest circulation daily newspaper in the United States with 2,024,269 readers. Of America's top 25 papers, the WSJ is the only publication that is gaining readers. The other 24 papers continue to drop circulation at alarming rates. You can read the results by clicking here. (My own hometown paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, dropped 18,548 readers since the ABC's April 27, 2009 survey, but climbed up one spot to #24 out of 25 dailies.)

** If you're reading these words now, you are responsible for the death of your local daily newspaper. Every minute you spend on the web – is a minute you've taken away from reading a newspaper or magazine. Millions have done the same. You've fled to the web to get news and information more quickly. Advertisers have likewise fled, tanking revenues at many news organizations, leading to scores of layoffs and consolidations. The reasons for the slow death of newspapers have been well documented.

** But the bigger question is this: "Why is the Wall Street Journal an exception?" Why is it defying gravity? Why is the Journal's popularity climbing?

** If you're reading this – and you DO NOT read the Wall Street Journal – what image pops into your head?

** Here's what the WSJ looked like almost 10 years ago:

** Here's what the WSJ looks like today:

** Alan Murray, Deputy Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal – and executive editor of the Wall Street Journal Online – declined to comment, react or to speculate about the constellation of reasons responsible for the Journal's success – and what role, if any, does Rupert Murdoch play. (Murdoch's News Corporation took ownership of the WSJ after a shareholder vote in December 2007.)

** Thus I'm going it alone.

** Some political partisans want you to believe that the WSJ's conservative political positions are responsible for its success.

** I say baloney.

** Some political partisans also want you to believe that Rupert Murdoch, a known political conservative who owns the WSJ through his News Corporation – is becoming financially enriched because of his positions against the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama.

** Again, I say baloney.

** Meanwhile, some political partisans believe that only money-grubbing fat-cats – who are in love with Republicans – read the WSJ. Some of these same partisans say Murdoch is a fascist pig who runs a fascist paper. (Honest, this is how a few left-wing pals of mine view the WSJ. One even told me publicly on Facebook that "decent people don't read fascist rags" like the WSJ.)

** Again, I say baloney.

** My response is this: My life is filled with much more important things to worry about – than to think about Rupert Murdoch. I don't have an opinion about him one way or another. I do believe, however, that if Murdoch is becoming financially enriched from the WSJ – it's NOT because of any antipathy toward Democrats or President Obama. I say this because most people DON'T read the editorial pages of any paper, let alone the WSJ's.

** In my view, the WSJ is now the nation's largest circulation daily for one reason, and it has less to do with Murdoch and more to do with what the WSJ has become since 2000. And that's an entertaining paper that's no longer just covering financial news.

** Anyone who has a job – or doesn't have a job – from CEOs down to the lowest rung of a company's ladder -- has discovered, especially during this recession, that the WSJ's "no-polemics" rule while covering breaking news or business trends – to be much more valuable than whatever is published on its editorial pages.

** Career Journal, which features job tips every week, Walt Mossberg's columns about computers and software, Sue Shellenbarger's Home and Family Mailbox – and the WSJ's Weekend Journal – the latter featuring arts, entertainment and sports news laid out in rich color – have become the most popular features in the Journal's recent history.

** Among the writers on the WSJ's editorial pages – only one conservative is considered widely read – and that's Peggy Noonan, who came out against GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008. In fact, it is the WSJ's "guest editorial writers" – and NOT editorials written by the Journal's own staff – who have caused more indigestion with political partisans.

** Conversely, the New York Times has dropped 150,000 PAID readers since March 2008 – and its better-known anti-Republican columnists who are still on the Times payroll include Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and the always enjoyable (to me) Maureen Dowd. Over the same period, the WSJ GAINED circulation. Why?

** The Democratic Party presently holds the greatest power and influence in all branches of the United States government since 1964. Barack Obama is only the 3rd Democrat to capture the White House over that period – and he's the first Democrat since 1976 to earn a majority vote. So why are the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – two papers which cater to liberal Democrats – failing?

** The answers to both questions are NOT related to politics. In my view, partisan politics isn't a significant factor. The destruction of metropolitan dailies in the United States are a reflection of what's happening everywhere in publishing. Advertisers and readers have fled to the Internet, because that’s where readers are getting content.

** Pick any one of the 25 papers listed in the latest ABC Circulation report – and I'll wager that NOT one has lost readers because of its editorials. Twenty-four of those 25 are simply not providing content that's "perceived" to be as timely, as useful or as relevant to readers – compared to their online counterparts. Meanwhile, the WSJ – while not a "hometown" paper – is perceived to be instantly providing everything – without giving away everything for free. People are actually PAYING to access the Journal's content (more on that in a minute).

** Most Wall Street Journal readers, myself included, don't always care about what's on its editorial pages. We're sticking with it because since about 2000, the WSJ has embraced a more inclusive view of daily content. Financial news, once the signature bread and butter of the WSJ – that filled page after page of stock quotes and other facts and figures printed in mouse type – has given way to news about large and small businesses, careers, computers, fashion, movies, arts, television – the whole nine yards.

** Competing papers offer the same, but the Journal hammers people with news people can use now, instantly – from finding the right job, navigating office politics, buying the best car, selecting the best wardrobe and patronizing the best hotels, restaurants and stores. Gone forever is the WSJ's image as a stuffy, 19th-century-looking, black-and-white broadsheet with ridiculously narrow columns and stories set in tiny type.

** More significantly, I believe the Wall Street Journal continues to "lead the way" with the most important news of the day, setting the news agendas of some of its competitors. It was the first paper to break the sub-prime mortgage and other financial scandals during the last 3 years, causing a "piggy-back" effect with competing editors in print and television. It's a rare day, for example, when a tabloid story about a balloon hoax – or a faux pas committed by a celebrity – will find its way onto the WSJ's front pages.

** So while the aforementioned represents the biggest reasons – in my view – for its success – the more spectacular phenomenon associated with the WSJ is this:

** At a time when almost everything online is FREE, the circulation for the ONLINE-ONLY version of the WSJ is through the roof
– with more than 360,000 PAID subscribers – which beats everyone else in this category by a country mile. Major "day of publication" stories are free – but the WSJ charges people for its content. Why are people reaching into their pockets to pay for content that other news organizations are giving away for free? I believe the answer is that they view WSJ-content differently from what's found in other papers.

** In sum, during this most trying of economic times
– in my view, subscribers believe the WSJ's stories are more relevant and more immediate to their personal and professional lives – and thus worth paying for.

** It's not about politics.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

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