Dow Jones‘ ’make or break' 2014

Dow Jones. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Dow Jones is gearing up for a potentially pivotal 2014.

The 131-year-old financial information and media company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Barron's and MarketWatch, has a number of key initiatives on the docket that will test its might during parent-corporation News Corp's first full fiscal year as a standalone publishing conglomerate.

Perhaps the most closely-watched of these is the implementation of DJX, a news and data offering meant to increase Dow Jones' share of the lucrative trading-terminal market that's dominated by Bloomberg L.P. and, to a lesser extent, Thomson Reuters.

One knowledgeable source described the rollout of DJX, which has so far been the most high-profile project of C.E.O. Lex Fenwick's nearly two-year tenure, as a "make or break transformation" for Dow Jones. The product was soft-launched earlier this year and has gotten off to a rocky start, according to a recent report on the website Quartz, which described a "lukewarm response" from top Wall Street firms.

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DJX will be expected to deliver during the next 12 months. But another insider speculated that its parent company, which is currently in the second quarter of News Corp's 2014 fiscal year, will give it a longer runway.

"I don't think that you invest heavily in a new product like DJX and give it a year to prove its mettle," the source said.

Part of the DJX sales pitch is that subscribers get early access to market-moving Journal and Dow Jones headlines from the organization's 1,800 journalists around the world. (In Wall Street time, two or three minutes can seem like an eternity.)

This need for speed reflects a broader imperative that will no doubt continue to gain currency among the company's journalists in the coming months. They're in the midst of transitioning to a "digital first" operation where news happens in real time and "scoops are the only guarantee of survival," as Gerard Baker, managing editor of the Journal and editor-in-chief of Dow Jones, put it in an end-of-year staff memo last December.

In service of this goal, the Dow Jones and Journal newsrooms were fully unified in 2013, creating something of a culture clash between rapid-fire wire-copy cranks and newspaper writers and editors who tend to care about things like story structure and prose.

"At Dow Jones, you get promoted because you were five nanoseconds faster than Bloomberg was on some announcement from Procter & Gamble," a source familiar with the situation told Capital. "You take a bunch of people trained that way, and not just seat them side by side, but have them share duties with Journal people who see themselves as being part of some higher calling, and it's a very difficult thing to manage."

A Dow Jones staffer described the state of things this way: "At a high level, there's a lot of emphasis on thinking 'digital first' at a place that is still largely geared toward putting out a newspaper."

Baker, who was promoted to the top masthead slot a year ago, seems determined to change the status quo. He outlined his plans to make the Journal a digital-first newsroom in an internal message to employees last month. In a Nov. 12 follow-up memo obtained by Capital, executive editor Almar Latour reiterated the importance of maintaining a breakneck pace.

"We will be fast with our news – the fastest when possible," Latour wrote. "For us this means our global newsroom needs to be staffed more rigorously around the clock. Our work and our workflow will have to adjust to the digital age. And we’ll intensify our drive to break news and be first with analysis and insight."

In a separate memo distributed yesterday afternoon, Latour announced the creation of an "Audience Engagement team ... a group of editors on the real-time desk who will help make sure that our stories will drive and participate in the biggest debates and discussions among our readers." This team will consist of social media editors and analytics specialists, and will be headed up by emerging media editor Liz Heron after she returns from leave next month, Latour said.

The overall emphasis is shifting as News Corp. executives tout digital growth (mobile usage in particular) in the face of industry-wide advertising headwinds that have stymied traditional revenue at the company's print publications.

"We will devote more digital and journalistic resources to help launch new digital initiatives in our core coverage areas," Latour wrote in his November memo, also stating that "we plan to add more top talent to the newsroom."

Indeed, employees noted on Twitter yesterday that Dow Jones is currently scouting for more than 90 editorial positions worldwide.

A Dow Jones spokeswoman, Paula Keve, told Capital it is "not uncommon at all for us to have that many jobs advertised." Plus there were already cuts this year as a result of the newsroom restructuring.

Additionally, one of our sources said, a lot of positions vacated through attrition were left unfilled as the company sorted out the integration, as well as a corporate split that separated lucrative film and television assets from News Corp's publishing stable as of this summer.

But now that "things are more stable, they can hire in the areas where they want to hire and invest where they want to invest," the source said.

One such investment involves the other major Dow Jones initiative that's on tap for the New Year: a ramp-up of technology coverage that will culminate in a new section both online and in the pages of the Journal.

The company has been on a hiring tear as it prepares to unveil the forthcoming platform, WSJD, which will compete with AllThingsD, the successful tech-news-site-cum-conference business that's about to severe ties with News Corp. and relaunch with a new name under the auspices of NBC Universal.

Buzzfeed recently reported that WSJD is scheduled to debut in January.

"Like every year, 2014 is an important one for Dow Jones," said Keve, the Dow Jones spokeswoman, when asked to comment for this article. "It’s certainly a time of change for the company, but one that will take a long time to play out."