June 4, 2024

WSJ Right to Focus on Business

Big newsletter this week with one of AMO’s best deep dives about Blockworks, and updates on The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Hit reply and let me know your thoughts. I always appreciate feedback from readers.

A quick reminder… I’m hosting three webinars over the next three weeks with Omeda.

  • This Thursday at 12pm ET, Omeda’s CEO James Capo and I share insights on the state and fate of media businesses. Register here.
  • Next Thursday at 12pm ET, I speak with Industry Dive’s Sean Griffey, Morning Brew’s Robert Dippell, and NY Post’s Ariscielle Novicio about creating your modern media growth playbook. Register here.
  • June 20th at 12pm ET, I’m speaking with Amanda Phillips from Active Interest Media and Dustin Titus from Zoomer Digital Media about unlocking the value of your audience. Register here.

I hope you enjoy them!

AMO Pro: From Institutional to Crypto Native: How Blockworks Pivoted to Thrive in a Bear Market

Last week, I spoke with Jason Yanowitz, co-founder of Blockworks, to understand how the business has thrived in tough crypto markets. I spent years at CoinDesk and vividly remember the booms and busts (I joke that I had a full head of hair when I started).

Two things stood out. First, the team pivoted in the audience it was seeking. Investors are great, but there’s a different category of audience that is even greater. And second, it changed how it sold ads, targeting an entirely new advertiser category.

Blockworks has also launched a new research business that is starting to see legitimate success. Overall, unlike basically every other crypto media company out there, Blockworks has figured out how to succeed. And it has done so staying profitable almost every step of the way.

Click here to read the full story.

WSJ is more than finance & CEOs

For the last six months, we have seen The Wall Street Journal make a number of moves that left some people confused. First, it was in January when it restructured its Washington D.C. bureau. [EDIT: After publication, WSJ reached out to correct me on the bolded point. WSJ did not shut down its D.C. bureau, but restructured it. Damian Paletta runs WSJ’s Washington coverage.] Why did it do this in a presidential election year? Fast forward to last week, it was reported that WSJ would be letting go of some staff.

According to a memo from editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker:

As you know, ambitious and revelatory work is at the center of our reader-first strategy. To execute that strategy, we must concentrate our efforts on areas where we can best do distinctive work.

To that end, we are moving many of our U.S. News reporters to groups in which they are natural fits: Real estate moves to Finance & Economics; reporters covering state and local politics join the Politics team; Education moves to Life & Work. And some reporters will move to a new National Affairs team that will take on big topics abortion, immigration, land use, guns, race. National Affairs will be part of Enterprise under Bruce Orwall and, I am excited to announce, will be led by Jennifer Levitz. We envision National Affairs as a home for engaging writing and storytelling.

We are moving away from regional and local general news, and because of that we are eliminating some roles in U.S. News and Speed & Trending.

On Monday, Axios’ Sara Fischer reported on a multimillion-dollar brand campaign that The Wall Street Journal is executing.

The campaign is in conjunction with editor-in-chief Emma Tucker’s mission to reorient the Journal’s newsroom around what she says is a “reader-first strategy,” focused on areas where the media outlet can be most distinctive and reach younger audiences.

The new campaign focuses on broadening the Journal’s subscriber appeal to a wider set of business professionals, not just a small subset of finance investors or C-suite executives.

The campaign tagline, “It’s Your Business,” is meant to “shift the perception of the Journal that prospects may have. Those who think the Journal isn’t for them,” said Sherry Weiss, chief marketing officer of the Journal’s parent company Dow Jones.

This is exactly the campaign that The Wall Street Journal should do. Refocusing the publication away from local and regional coverage to more business-first topics is the right approach. I wrote that on Friday for AMO Pro members:

I see this memo as an admission that some content doesn’t resonate with readers as much as others. For media companies that pride themselves on being audience-first, investing in stories and content initiatives that do not move the needle for that audience is a waste of money.

Ultimately, I see a story about the finiteness of resources, despite the nine-figure EBITDA the division generated. Profit expectations drive the choice between investing in two types of reporting, favoring the one with the best return.

That is why there are currently 39 job openings at The Wall Street Journal with the word “reporter” in the name. There are an additional 35 for roles with the word “editor” in the name. The company’s decision to hire suggests a focus on specific content categories.

Ultimately, The Wall Street Journal needs to focus all resources on serving the audience it has and that it wants. Having non-core content running across the site doesn’t satisfy that goal, so reallocating resources makes perfect sense. Investing every dollar it has in acquiring more of that business audience should be the priority.

Now, there is something to be said about that part in Axios’ reporting regarding a younger audience. There are two possible interpretations for that phrase, one of which would be unwise and one of which would not be.

First, the unwise interpretation. There is a weird obsession with acquiring “young” readers. Many stories over the years have talked about the young reader. Acquiring young readers sounds great and there are plenty of brands that have built strong businesses on the young reader. But this cohort of readers doesn’t have the money to spend $400 on an annual subscription to The Wall Street Journal. So, trying to cater to them is just foolish.

Second, the not so dumb interpretation is an audience that is not under half a century old. Three years ago, BuzzFeed News published a piece on an internal-WSJ report.

One of the biggest errors, the report argues, is the newsroom’s focus on getting out a daily print edition for its long-term subscribers, who are mainly men with an average age of 49, despite print having declined globally across all media organizations for years.

There is nothing wrong with 49-year-olds, but when that’s your average, it’s because there are a lot of people far older. And so, younger can simply mean younger than its current audience. Would any of us balk at The Wall Street Journal trying to get 35-year-old directors to read? Today’s director of the CEO of the future. And while that report suggested things were dire, the numbers don’t support that. According to News Corp’s Fiscal Q3 2024 financials, WSJ is growing.

The bigger question is whether WSJ is going deep enough on enough topics to attract directors or VPs. CEOs need to think more strategically and perhaps from a more macro perspective. Directors or VPs are more focused on their industry or job function; therefore, WSJ needs to continue investing in more specific editorial coverage to serve these beats.

There’s an argument to be made that The Wall Street Journal may want to start looking at making targeted acquisitions similar to what the Financial Times did with Endpoints News last year. While this technically operates within FT’s Specialist Group, a future where a bundle to the FT gets you more industry-specific coverage could be imagined, especially if the team continues to acquire other brands.

The Wall Street Journal is smart to refocus. Ideally, when it leads with a tagline “It’s Your Business,” it’s thinking about a younger, 35-year-old director or VP, rather than the 22 entry-level employee. A focus on business is the right way to grow long-term.

WaPo needs decisiveness

A week ago, we wrote about the Washington Post’s subscription strategy. I stated, “its traffic has been cut in half since 2020, the remaining audience is unbelievably unengaged, and I don’t see how it can win editorially.”

Well, it seems that CEO Will Lewis agrees because he announced on Sunday night that executive editor Sally Buzbee was leaving and his former WSJ executive editor, Matt Murray, would take over. Semafor’s Max Tani has the full memo here.

Vanity Fair wrote about the Monday all hands. Many quoted were frustrated with the outcome, expressing concern about the lack of diversity up top and how quickly these changes came about. A couple of Lewis’ points are worth looking at . First:

At one point Lewis was asked whether he was intentionally bringing in people who come from a different culture than the Post. “We are losing large amounts of money. Your audience has halved in recent years. People are not reading your stuff. I can’t sugarcoat it anymore,” Lewis said. “So I’ve had to take decisive, urgent action to set us on a different path, sourcing talent that I have worked with that are the best of the best.”

He discussed the concept of a third newsroom in the memo. He stated that it would consist of service and social media journalism, and operate separately from the core news operation. “The aim is to give the millions of Americans- who feel traditional news is not for them but still want to be kept informed – compelling, exciting and accurate news where they are and in the style that they want.”

This interaction, quoted in Vanity Fair, offers insight into how the newsroom is thinking about it:

“Don’t we need our brilliant social journalists and service journalists as embedded in our core product to make sure that people are actually reading the thing that’s out at the center of the mission of the Washington Post?” one staffer asked, to which Lewis replied, “You haven’t done it. I’ve listened to the platitudes. Honestly, it’s just not happening.”

I can’t tell you whether Matt Murray or his replacement after the election, Robert Winnett, is going to be good. I also can’t tell you whether this idea for a third newsroom is good. I don’t get it and think chasing ephemeral social audiences is an inherently bad idea. But Lewis is also talking about these people paying for content, so perhaps he has a deeper strategy.

I can tell you that the Washington Post is in a bad place. When you are in crisis, you need to act fast. Having trusted and experienced team members ensures speed. Not everything will work, but the current approach isn’t working either. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos demands WaPo be a self-sustaining unit. So, in this case, it’s better for the Washington Post to try something new than continue on its current trajectory.

Thanks so much for reading this week’s AMO. There’s a lot in here, so I hope you found it all helpful. Become an AMO Pro member today so you never miss another piece. Have a great week!

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