WSJ editor talks personalisation, mobile, print, Apple News+
World Congress Blog | 16 May 2019
“Personalisation is truly the way to transform the mobile experience,” Matt Murray, editor-in-chief at The Wall Street Journal, told delegates at the INMA World Congress of News Media in New York on Thursday.
The company has been focusing on creating a more satisfying experience on mobile. Congress moderator Juan Señor commented on the power of print and the satisfaction it creates inherently as a platform. Murray agreed, saying there is no product that offers a similar experience. The Wall Street Journal has taken inspiration from print in creating its mobile product.
“I think we’ve tried to focus the product to help curate so the home page is not too deep, is not endless, so you can find what you need to know,” Murray said.
As it transforms toward a mobile-first strategy, the Journal is thinking a lot about video and audio. The company aims to engage audiences in a more real-time way, though it did recently re-evaluate its newsletter strategy. Many were not journalistic experiences, and they weren’t tracking them. Murray said the Journal overhauled its newsletter portfolio to make sure they were coherent and useful to subscribers, which is what the company aims to do across all its products.
“I think we’re all anticipating that technology is going to take us into a way of much more personalisation in the next few years, so we’re thinking harder about each of those core topic areas and how do we get the best one there,” he said.
Metrics are becoming a core part of The Wall Street Journal’s strategy as it develops and evolves its products to better serve users. Murray said some of the most important metrics the company tracks are time spent on stories and number of days spent on the Web site each month. If someone visits five or more days, they are notable. If they visit 16 or more, they are considered a super user.
Millennials are not currently buying print subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal in big numbers, Murray said, and he is not sure that they ever will. He is interested in how companies like BuzzFeed age with the generation, adding that print will probably become a boutique product for those who really want it. Making print, though, brings its own kind of satisfaction.
“I think there is a kind of a satisfaction every day in making something,” Murray said. “At the end of the day you’ve really got something you can hold it in your hands, and it’s something that you made. It can always be better, but you get the chance of coming back and making it again the next day.”
Many publishers are re-considering the role of content distribution on major digital platforms. The Journal is an early partner of Apple’s US$9.99 per month News+ product. Murray said the company is not currently concerned about subscriber cannabilisation, but is keeping an eye on the potential risk.
“Apple is the first big tech company (that) has put a product on the table that pays us for our content,” Murray said. “And they have been emphasising in the product that they are going to talk about quality content, and that means you won’t have a fake news problem. And that, to us, is intriguing and worth engaging in.”
The Journal evaluates potential platform or media expansions carefully, considering the criteria of partnership and what that means for the company. Access to data is important, though not having total control is not necessarily a deal-breaker. Journalistic integrity, however, is.
“The most important rule for us in any partnership is we have the final say over the journalism,” Murray said. “We don’t want to do any deal where we give away our journalistic imperatives.”
When asked what keeps him up at night, Murray said industry transformation is bringing opportunities to the table and raising questions for publishers.
“I worry about the constant challenge of evolving with our audience but staying true to our content,” he said. “Staying true to the really quality reporting that is the bedrock of all great journalism and making sure we don't cut those corners.”