Diluting the WSJ

In a presidential campaign, candidates triangulate towards the center. The Democrat knows he has his party’s hard-core supporters in the bag; the Republican likewise. So both tend to take those hard-core supporters for granted and chase after other voters.

According to Joe Nocera, it seems the Wall Street Journal is doing the same thing: taking its business readership for granted and going for a more mainstream audience.

On Tuesday, there wasn’t a single mainstream business story in the entire first section. And the business stories that did run lacked the kind of nuance, analysis and wonderful story-telling that used to characterize The Wall Street Journal I loved…

He is changing the paper. Mr. Murdoch believes that the country is yearning for a national conservative daily, so that is where he is taking The Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch is betting that the WSJ’s core business audience has nowhere else to turn, and Nocera himself says that he, personally, will never stop subscribing to the Journal. So the strategy does make some sense, in the short to medium term.

But in the longer term, it’s destructive to the WSJ’s franchise. Today’s businessmen — the commuters in suits on the 7:05 from somewhere in Westchester — might be a given for Murdoch. But tomorrow’s aren’t. And if the WSJ becomes increasingly indistinguishable, in terms of the stories it runs, from other mainstream media outlets, there’s no reason that the commuters of tomorrow won’t be consuming something entirely different on their mobile devices. Maybe it will be an alternative business daily, maybe it will be some kind of aggregated content from around the web, maybe it will be a collection of or video business podcasts. But if the WSJ brand becomes diluted, Murdoch will find, sooner or later, that he can’t take the paper’s core readership for granted any more.

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