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The Wall Street Journal’s innovation chief on the future of media in a pandemic

The publisher also regularly consult across its business to identify new growth opportunities.

Robin Kwong, the newsroom innovation lead at The Wall Street Journal, talks The Drum through how the publisher’s plans have been precipitated by the pandemic.

Covid-19 has forced The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to accelerate its plans around transformation in storytelling and how the publisher is offering stories and analysis, according to Robin Kwong, its newsroom innovation lead. It has driven a number of innovations that are helping to bring its journalism to a wider audience, he says, telling The Drum that one of the key pillars of WSJ’s approach to innovation is to help make its journalism more useful, accessible and relevant.

For example, the publisher created its first-ever automated email course, the Six Week Money Challenge, to help readers navigate tricky personal finance issues by tapping into their desires to complete projects during the pandemic. It hoped this would help people who needed to make some tough financial decisions right now.

“Also, when the US election was looming, we worked on other opportunities to engage our audiences in ways that make their lives easier. An example of that is creating a tailored experience around our state-by-state guide to voting by mail. For readers who opted into the experience, we pre-set the guide to display information for their state, based on their location. It’s a small detail, but an important demonstration of how thoughtful use of personalisation can help make our journalism more accessible.”

Then there is WSJ’s brand new Talk 2020 platform. ”This portal drew on our huge Factiva archive, allowing readers to search through speeches, statements and announcements made by the key players in the presidential race. This meant people could search the facts for themselves on issues such as what Donald Trump has said about China or what Kamala Harris has said about tax reform. One of our company missions is to be the source of truth for decision makers, and this kind of innovation put a lot of power back into voters’ hands.”

Another area of innovation he has seen take off in recent months is its live Q&As. ”We invite well-known figures from the worlds of business, finance, politics and economics to take questions from our members. Ohio governor Mike DeWine spoke in May about the state’s reopening plans for early June, Genesee County sheriff Chris Swanson spoke about removing his riot gear and joined protesters during a peaceful demonstration in Flint, Michigan, and we also invited award-winning chef Michael Tusk to show how he makes spaghetti alla carbonara. It’s a great way for our audiences to get behind the headlines and it’s something we’re seeing increased demand for during this pandemic.”

Finding innovative ways to engage new and diverse audiences helps WSJ continue to grow its subscriber and membership base and present different avenues for potential subscribers to find value in its offerings.

For example, some people use the publisher to help them stay informed, some to help them learn through courses and get ahead in business and in life, while others find value in engaging with its various channels for more active participation, such as through its Q&As or virtual events.

“Over 50% of our student subscribers are now female. We are also driving and developing more partnerships in addition to our established relationships with the likes of Gimlet Media, Medium, Apple News+ and Twitter among others. In particular, we are always looking to work with organizations with which we can build deeper relationships in ways that take our connection with audiences beyond the transactional.

“We’re particularly proud of the WSJ Jobs Summit event that took place recently and combines all three reasons. This was a free event, featuring a blend of advice and journalism delivered by our specialist reporting teams alongside industry experts, to help people – regardless of where they are in their career – navigate the choppy waters of today’s job market.

“Where our content shows up is also a key part of what we do. We are doubling down on SEO efforts and getting a better understanding of what readers are searching for, which will help to inform future strategies. Above all, it’s about creating new relationships with our audiences in surprising but useful ways.”

Ultimately, WSJ believes no matter where they are, its readers want engaging, accessible journalism, which is why Kwong says many of its innovation efforts serve readers, regardless of geography. The innovation efforts are also targeted and personalised as WSJ’s readers in Asia are more interested in business and markets news.

The publisher also regularly consult across its business to identify new growth opportunities for products and services that will enhance its reader experience.

“One area in particular is the tailored experience. Instead of the old one-size-fits-all newspaper model, we want to offer relevant features and content at the right time, to the right people, in the right format.

“For example, a person who has a track record of viewing our video journalism should find it easier to access those videos on our site or in our app. We are at an early stage with this, but the potential benefits for our audiences are exciting.”

“Another area we are devoting a lot of energy to is the development of virtual communities. We believe that building communities around subjects and areas of common interest will begin to become more important in terms of strategy and content development than any issue of geography.”

The publisher previously explained to The Drum why it turned to the events business to plug the revenue gap and retain a physical touch with its readers with a live journalism experiential event call Journal House after shuttering its print editions in the APAC and Europe.

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