The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

There was a time when the public’s relationship with news was channeled through a handful of trusted sources. Today, that relationship is more complicated. The Internet has given a voice to the masses, but has also made it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. The Journal sat down with Jonathan Wright, managing director international of Dow Jones, to find out how one of the world’s most trusted news sources gives readers the facts they need to make sense of the world.

How do you help the public at large distinguish between real news and fake news?
Dow Jones brings together world-leading data, media, membership, and intelligence solutions to power the most ambitious companies and professionals. In my opinion, the most important action we can take is to continue that work— innovating, iterating, and putting our customers at the heart of everything we do.

More specifically, we have also engaged for many years with the tech companies that currently receiving criticism regarding their role in the explosion of fake news. We have always maintained that if tech platforms take content from publishers, demand it is free, attempt to commoditize it, and follow a business model that merely chases the click, then issues will arise; and they certainly have. The moment news was treated the same—regardless of its origin—it was only going to be a matter of time.

It certainly does not help that Google and Facebook make it difficult for consumers to make this distinction. For example, Google News has commoditized news. Every article is in the same font and format, robbing news organizations of our identity and effectively making one source look the same as another. Go on Google News and you do not see the masthead of The South China Morning Post or Apple Daily—or indeed The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). [Former US President Barack] Obama made the point when he said: “If everything seems to be the same, and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”

It is important that other professional news businesses stand up for their content, too, and we are happy to partner where there is mutual benefit. In the case of Japan, two such partners are Mainichi and NewsPicks which both launched in the past 18 months.

Finally, I think professional news businesses such as ours can help explain how our content is created, who and what is behind it. We recently launched our “Face of Real News” campaign with a series of videos highlighting some of our journalists on The Wall Street Journal. There are also ongoing conversations about innovative ways of sharing what goes into a Wall Street Journal story to give our members a unique insight into a newsroom that has won 37 Pulitzer Prizes.

Do paywalls threaten to reduce the level of “real” news literacy among the public?
The proliferation of fake news is a concern. However, I think it is the platforms that have allowed it to spread who need to take the lead in tackling the issue. For our part as a professional news organization, the paywall is a crucial mechanism for ensuring the future of real news. We feel a responsibility to ensure we are leading the fight to guarantee professional journalism has a future, and indeed flourishes. For that to happen, we need to ensure that viable business models support it, and our membership model—along with engaged and innovative advertising solutions—are key to that future.

How serious is the threat to journalism posed by the adversarial language of the current US administration?
One of the roles of journalism is to hold the powerful to account. There has been adversarial language aimed at media for a long time, and I don’t see that ending any time soon. I am concerned about the politicization of the term “fake news” to combat a report or point of view one doesn’t agree with. Whilst I don’t see it as a threat to journalism, I think it is a disappointing alternative to public discourse and debate.

Does print journalism have a viable role in an age that is becoming increasingly digital?
The Wall Street Journal is the most trusted newspaper in America and the most read paper, Monday to Friday, in the United States. We are committed to providing our audience with our top-quality content in the format they want. Whilst we have teams working on the latest virtual reality and augmented reality ideas, we have also redesigned the US paper in recent months. We are committed to the paper, and I personally believe that whilst business models and product sets need to iterate and innovate, The Wall Street Journal will be available in print for many more years to come. I certainly hope so, as it’s a format that I enjoy immensely myself—not least because I haven’t quite managed to get the hang of online crossword puzzles yet.

As technology offers more options for interactivity in digital publishing—such as digital magazines and newspapers with embedded multimedia—does the WSJ see these as valuable for bringing more readers to serious journalism?
The important thing with the rapid developments in technology is to put the customer at the center of everything you do as a business, every decision you make. It can be all too easy to be distracted by the latest shiny thing, or feel you need to be in the latest fad. If an advancement or technology helps our customers and helps us bring our content to them, and makes it more useful to them, we’ll explore it.

We are very excited about many of the advancements in technology, and we have already seen some really interesting developments around what is possible with immersive storytelling. More to come in this space from The Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones Media Group.

How important is video in connecting the public with reliable, fact-based journalism and discussion?
Video is a hugely popular medium, and therefore an excellent platform to engage with your audience. The important thing to note is the sheer scale. For example, hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute. User-generated content needs to be verified before it can be trusted and shared by publishers. That is one of the reason News Corp purchased Storyful, which employs cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned journalism to help to verify social video.

Does WSJ see podcasting as an important and growing part of making fact-based journalism and discussion accessible to a wider audience?
I agree podcasts have made somewhat of a resurgence. They’re cool again! And I am delighted about that. We continue to invest in podcasts, with some of the best examples coming from our editorial team lead by Paul Gigot.

How do you envision VR or AR being applied to news?
We’re on a long journey with VR and AR. Our Google Daydream-based app allows you to step inside a virtual room, specially designed for the app, and stay informed with breaking news, follow the markets with a live markets data visualization, and immerse yourself in compelling narratives with interactive 360-degree videos. We’ll see more from this technology as it develops.

How has the Dow Jones/WSJ growth strategy changed over the past five years? Are there differences between that strategy in the United States and in Japan?
Dow Jones is lucky to have three revenue streams: membership, advertising, and professional information. Our CEO, William Lewis, and President, Katie Vanneck-Smith, instilled a laser-like focus on membership growth, announcing a company goal of “3in3.” This set the target of reaching 3 million members in three years. I’m delighted to say we are on track to reach that goal by the deadline of the end of 2017. Ultimately, as we grow our membership, all other components fall into place.

What do you see as the biggest growth opportunities for Dow Jones and the WSJ in Japan?
I think there are three key areas for growth for Dow Jones in Japan. We have seen a substantial increase in membership of the WSJ in Japan, both for our English- and Japanese-language sites. We expect to see this continue, and we are excited about bringing our most prestigious membership event to Tokyo this May in the form of our CEO Council (page 21), a meeting of global chief executives taking place at the Palace Hotel.

Our professional information division, which includes products such as Dow Jones Risk and Compliance and [research tool] FACTIVA, has seen a record year led by our efforts around our J-PEP campaign, which focused on politically exposed persons in Japan.

We have also seen an increase in activity working with Japanese entities as they look to utilize Dow Jones platforms to market to an international audience. A recent example of this is the work launched by WSJ Custom Studios for the Japan Cabinet Office, highlighting Japanese investment in the US economy.

In the months ahead, these are the areas we will be focusing on, and I am confident that with exciting events ahead—such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games—our businesses in Japan will continue their current trajectory.

Leave us with one final thought on the state of journalism in 2017.
Where you get your news has never been more important.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-chief of The Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.
Where you get your news has never been more important.