How print icon Wall Street Journal transitioned to mobile-first

SUMMARY: For The Wall Street Journal, moving to a mobile-first strategy required rethinking nearly everything within the newsroom.

The Wall Street Journal is one of the most successful print newspapers in the world. So why has it spent the past two years pursuing a mobile-first strategy that has focused on adapting to the requirements of the small screen?

Because, quite simply, that’s increasingly where the audience is found, said Matt Murray, editor-in-chief of the Journal.

“We have a large print presence still, we have the largest print paper in the United States, and print is and will remain important for us for the foreseeable future,” Murray said in an interview with the Institute for Media Strategies. “The Journal has a large desktop audience relative to others, primarily because a lot of people use us in the workplace. But mobile is where we are seeing the growth.”

To optimise its content for mobile platforms, the Journal has undertaken a profound transformation of its newsroom, involving all aspects of operations: audience, content, workflow, people, and technology.

“When we started the project, mobile was where we were lagging the most,” Murray said. “Our products were poor, our readers survey showed they were the least satisfying products we had. Mobile isn’t just about the stories, it’s about the story formats, news alerts, and the way people interact with the phone.”

But the evolution to a mobile-first strategy is a lot more than just about platforms and format, he said. It also involves rethinking everything from data collection and use, to recruitment and training, to workflows and structures, to products and technology.

“We completely rebuilt and rebooted our mobile products,” Murray said. “We built an operations department to help manage the entire staff. … We overhauled our leadership structure very dramatically. … We built an audience data team that brings audience data into our decisions. Our ultimate goal is that all of our content creators and editors, our reporters and visual and video, have audience data at their fingertips, and incorporate it into their thinking.”

Two years into the project, there is still more to come. “I think journalism is like the movie business was in 1916, before sound and before colour and all the changes that transformed it,” Murray said.

The Institute for Media Strategies provided advice to The Wall Street Journal for the project, known as WSJ2020. Read the full interview with Matt Murray on the IFMS blog.