Gerard Baker: 5 pillars of business journalism in the digital age

The lecture room at City University London filled up quickly when Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones, came to give a talk on the five pillars of business journalism in the digital age.

Baker, who is also the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, discussed the important shift that media organisations need to make if their online publishing strategies are to survive the fast-growing market of specialised business publications.

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Credit: Rèmi Steinegger

Bringing up this year’s 125th anniversary of the WSJ, he reflected on the fact that business journalism has come a long way from being a side project to being a thriving and sought-after news product. The boom started in the 1980s and 1990s, when the end of the Cold War and the ensuing explosion of financial assets boosted readers’ interest in understanding the economic events.

But for Baker, the “golden age for business journalism” is now.  He cited a plethora of recently launched, digitally native business publications, such as QuartzBusiness Insider and BuzzFeed Business, which thrive on the demand society has for business-oriented news.

He identified five pillars of WSJ’s digital strategy, which he considers crucial for every business publication to fulfil this demand:

  1. Genuinely embrace the digital revolution and change the culture of news organisations. “We have to fundamentally rethink our product and reshape it for the digital age,” said Baker. “Taking the newspaper approach and sticking it into the digital format is not viable.”

  2. Preserve and strengthen independence, and resist the temptation of relying on business organisations, even in the face of declining ad revenues.

  3. Maintain the right balance, since an open society needs a thriving press to hold both the public and corporate sectors to account. Journalistic ethics and standard are therefore of utmost importance in keeping reporters and companies’ staff apart.

  4. Invest in the high degree of specialisation. “The reality of the digital age is niche content and there are many business opportunities in offering deep insights into specific areas of coverage,” said Baker.

  5. Seize the opportunity to become a genuinely global news organisation. Baker believes this is necessary because of the economic and financial interdependence. “The only business journalism that will survive will cover a global outlook,” he said.

“Quality journalism is still rare in the world,” he added, pointing out that as emerging economies arrive on the world stage, news organisations such as the Wall Street Journal can use the opportunity to fill the gap.

With its total combined circulation of 2.3 million copies, the WSJ is the largest paid-for title in the US. It is also the only title that decided to charge readers for online news from the beginning of its digital existence, and bets on the subscription model to help it succeed in the future.

For Baker, the current opportunities alongside difficult financial circumstances mean that there has never been a greater hunger nor greater audience for business news.

“We can meet this desire,” he said. “I’m highly optimistic about what we can do.”