Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WSJ's Alan Murray - Will newspapers survive?

The newspaper business may be stuck in a messy period for the next 10 years, said Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor of The Wall Street Journal. Murray oversees the Journal's web sites including WSJ.com and MarketWatch.com and the Journal's books, conferences and television operations.

"It's a curious time in the newspaper business. There was a time earlier this year when you could buy a share of McClatchy stock for less than you can buy a newspaper," Murray noted.

The newspaper business has changed dramatically from the "Leave it to Beaver" days of Ward Clever reading the paper in the morning before he went to work. "People have a million places to get information today," he said, adding that the number of print readers is significantly smaller than the number of online readers.

The Journal's web site, however, has more than 20 million visitors monthly triple the amount of three years ago.

"We have to get people used to paying for content," he said, adding that advertising alone is not going to be enough. The Journal does give some content away free, but has an audience that pays for access. "We give out for free much of the popular news, but put behind the pay wall, the stuff that we uniquely provide," Murray said, adding that the paper is looking at other ways to generate revenue such as premium services. "We will find a way to get through this, but not everybody will."

Despite the financial challenges, Murray said, "I've never had more fun in journalism than I'm having now. We're talking to readers in more ways than ever and we have a richness and depth, we never had before."

The paper is looking to grow its audience and is offering more features. Being a photographer for the paper used to be a joke, but the paper has become more graphically and technologically savvy and now offers web casts. "We're go way beyond what we've done in the past," Murray said.

Rupert Murdoch has a passion for the Wall Street Journal and will fund its growth, he said, adding that he sees no evidence of ideological influence on the news coverage. There have been changes such as less long form stories, he said, adding that the paper can no longer function like a magazine.

What Murray said worries him most about the news business is the trend for people to seek media that supports their biases. "People are in a news bubble and just consuming the media that agrees with them and reinforces their opinions," he commented to the Public Relations Society of New York.

Murray is also the author of three best-selling books: "Revolt in the Boardroom, The New Rules of Power in Corporate America," "The Wealth of Choices: How the New Economy Puts Power in Your Hands and Money in Your Pocket," and "Showdown at Gucci Gulch: Lawmakers, Lobbyists and the Unlikely Triumph of Tax Reform," co-authored with Jeffrey Birnbaum.

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Pam Snook, 917-544-1923, pamvsnook@gmail.com, www.pamsnook.blogspot.com