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WSJ Shrinks Iconic ‘What’s News’ Feature

The Wall Street Journal must be taking bikini season seriously, because it just shrunk its iconic “What’s News” feature. Today’s What’s News sidebar is a single column, instead of the customary two.

The What’s News section has been a Journal A1 staple for many years. It packs snippets of the day’s articles, along with items not found in the paper that specific day. The content was separated into Business & Finance and World-Wide. Now only Business & Finance remains.

In a memo announcing the move, Gerard Baker, the Journal’s managing editor, said What’s News was changing for a few reasons.

“Since the changes we’ve made in the last few years to A1 have made the front page newsier, the case for two full columns of news digest items has diminished, and some of the items in the What’s News columns have become repetitive, even otiose,” explained Baker in his note.

Slimming down What’s News will also give more space to other A1 items, which Baker wrote will “enable us to get to the front page more of our original reporting, more news – including no-jump stories as brevity sometimes demands – more enterprise reporting, more creative and appealing use of news photography, graphics and other visual devices.”

Baker’s full memo is below.

Even as we become daily a more digital newspaper, increasing the reach and impact of our reporting, analysis and comment online and on our various electronic platforms, we never neglect our print edition.  With just under 1.5m copies sold every day in the US,  the print Journal remains the primary source of news for a vast number of our readers.  We take great pride in the print paper and we aim to keep it sharp in its reporting, comprehensive in its coverage and lively in its look and content.

Page One remains the point of introduction for our print readers.  As such it performs two principal functions:  a digest of the day’s main news and a deeper exploration of the big stories and themes that are driving world events.  We’ve made significant changes to the front page in the last five years, adding news, broadening the subject agenda to include more general topics, and significantly enhancing the visual appeal with photos, graphics and other colorful innovations.  The aim has always been to expand and strengthen the Journal’s reach, while maintaining its unimpeachable editorial values.  The result has been impressive: the Journal is now America’s largest-subscription daily newspaper.

In today’s US print edition we make another adjustment to the front page that will enable us to bring even more news and original reporting to the showcase page of the paper.

The What’s News Column has long been a valued tool for our readers, a comprehensive, elegant and concise digest of the most important stories in the day’s news.  Over its long history, the look and substance of What’s News has evolved. In its early days it ran as a single column.  For some time it has run most days at two columns; in the recent past we have run it at one column on Saturdays and occasionally on other days when the news flow dictates.

From today we will be running it again daily as a single column.  There are a number of reasons.  For some time now, since the paper went to a smaller page width six years ago, the remaining four columns of front page news have constrained the rest of the articles into a punishingly thin four columns.  What’s more, since the changes we’ve made in the last few years to A1 have made the front page newsier, the case for two full columns of news digest items has diminished, and some of the items in the What’s News columns have become repetitive, even otiose.

What’s News will remain the anchor and distinguishing feature of the Journal’s front page.  It will continue to provide the best and most succinct summary of the big news stories of the day -  Business & Finance and World-Wide  – and to serve as a table of contents for what’s inside the paper.  What’s more, by removing the daily Vital Signs economics graphic from the foot of the columns, as well as Monday’s What’s Ahead columns, and by editing the individual digest stories in a more concise form, we’ll have room for almost as many What’s News items as we have had in the last few years.

The additional column available for the rest of the page will give us more flexibility in presenting our big stories of the day.  It will enable us to get to the front page more of our original reporting, more news – including no-jump stories as brevity sometimes demands – more enterprise reporting, more creative and appealing use of news photography, graphics and other visual devices.  And we’ll also have more space to point the reader inside to other big stories in the paper.  I urge all of you to take the opportunity presented by the change to contribute more reporting to the front page.

Page One, indeed the entire print Journal,  is not a lapidary construct, an unchanging monument to editorial decisions set in stone generations ago.    Its look and content has changed often and will continue to change.  We’ll seek new ways to evolve it to strengthen its standing as the source of the most important news in America: always with the primary objective of bringing our readers the news they need.

Gerry

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