MEDIA PROFILE: New Journal section lends a human face to Wall St numbers

Though intentionally different in tone and content from The Wall Street Journal, Paul Cordasco finds that those who anticipate more lenient editorial standards from the Personal Journal will be sadly mistaken

Though intentionally different in tone and content from The Wall Street Journal, Paul Cordasco finds that those who anticipate more lenient editorial standards from the Personal Journal will be sadly mistaken

Think of The Wall Street Journal's new Personal Journal section as a yuppie survival guide. As the WSJ's commercials put it, "If you want to know which tire company has the best lawyers, read The Wall Street Journal.

If you want to know which tire companies make the best tires, read Personal Journal."

A Newsweek writer recently called the section, published thrice weekly, as "a news you can use

section.

Personal Journal hit newsstands during the first week of April as part of the staid financial daily's subtle makeover - one that's received the oxymoronic label "conservative progressive."

So who are the core readers of the Journal's first new section in years?

"Wall Street Journal readers,

answers WSJ deputy editor Eben Shapiro, quickly and matter-of-factly allowing that answer to speak for itself.

And who reads the WSJ these days? Two words: rich people.

According to Medelsohn Media Research, the WSJ ranks first among several national papers and consumer magazines in various gauges of readership affluence, including readers who have made purchases of at least $5,000 in the past year on artwork and collectibles, and readers with primary residences valued at over $500,000.

It's no wonder that regular advertisers for Personal Journal have so far included the likes of Lamborghini Washington and Saks Fifth Avenue.

Nevertheless, many have speculated that the paper's recent makeover - including the addition of Personal Journal - is an attempt to attract a younger, more gender-diverse readership. In 1999, women accounted for only 17% of WSJ subscribers, while the average age of a WSJ subscriber that year was 54, according to Newsweek. Still the newspaper - and by extension, Personal Journal - is among the most broadly distributed print publications in the US, with its daily circulation most recently listed at 1.9 million.

Personal Journal articles fall under six headings: personal finance, health & family, gadgets, cars, travel, and leisure & arts. The section is brighter than the WSJ's main business sections, and includes modest use of color photos.

Nevertheless, those who think the Personal Journal's slightly more casual personality might translate into a more unbuttoned feel in the newsroom should think again.

"We are still The Wall Street Journal,

says Shapiro. "It's not useful to think of us in other terms. It's the same bar, and it remains very high."

The section features several weekly columns, including a wellness and health column by Tara Parker-Pope, a personal finance column by Jonathan Clements, and a work and family column by Sue Shellenbarger.

The WSJ's resident tech-gadget guru, Walter S. Mossberg, however, is the probably the biggest star to jump to the new section. "The Mossberg Solution

reviews the latest in tech gadgets, from keyboards for PDAs to a device that can turn a PC into an electric guitar amplifier. The highly influential Mossberg has been known to single-handedly make or break the latest tech gizmos.

Not surprisingly, America's financial daily of record is reticent to acknowledge that it may be open to pitches, but it is quick to point out that a good story idea is a good story idea.

For those willing to do the legwork and develop relationships, pitching the Personal Journal is not mission impossible. But the right pitch will certainly mean doing homework. Original pitches that have exclusive news or angles have the best hope of being noticed. Shapiro says clear and detailed pitches received via e-mail or snail mail will have the best chance of catching the staff's eye, while phone pitches are almost never received warmly.

"People here read their mail,

says Shapiro. "If a company brings something very new or innovative to our attention, we are willing to listen."

Shapiro offers another subtle hint about pitching his section: "Those who know the Journal, know that we have always been a reporter-driven paper,

he says. "My advice is to get to know our section, and start learning which people are writing about which subjects."

As the section is being built from the ground up, Shapiro says no subsection within Personal Journal is more open to pitches than any other. The editor insists every pitch is evaluated on its own merits, and blanket pitching is a sure way to alienate yourself from the publication.

"We are very selective,"explains Shapiro. "It has to be something really worthwhile to get our attention."

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