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Interview: Part 1: Dow Jones’ Not-So-Odd Couple Les Hinton & Robert Thomson

Les Hinton and Robert Thomson don’t exactly finish each other’s sentences — they’re a tad too polite for that — but they could. When I joked about pairs for comparison, the two quickly shot back with Bill and Ben, the Flower Pot Men. (It’s a toss-up as to which is which of the string puppets that starred on the BBC in the ’50s and ’60s.) Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and Thomson, editor-in-chief, Dow Jones, and managing editor of the Journal, were front and center through most of the D8 conference outside Los Angeles last week, often alongside News Corp Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch. Figuratively, that’s where they’ve been since late 2007 when News Corp acquired Dow Jones and the two were given the task of remaking DJ and WSJ .

The two sat down with paidContent between sessions for a wide-ranging chat about changes and plans for the Journal shared here in lightly edited excerpts. Part one covers the changes they’ve made, their plans for an expanded weekend edition to launch in the fall, and where the next local edition might launch. Part two looks at the digital present and future.

Staci D. Kramer, co-editor, paidContent: You’ve made a lot of changes. What do you think is the most significant thing you’ve done in that time?

Robert Thomson: First of all, to improve the international coverage because America needs to know a lot more about the world, and the world about America. The initial extensive investment was in, frankly, extra pages but also in extra correspondents because unless you invest in quality journalism and make yourself distinctive you are going to lose readers. … There is more to read that’s compelling.

Les Hinton: The fortuitous thing for us is that we acquired the newspaper just before dreadful things happened to the economy and the result of that was lots of local newspaper and big regionals took pretty extreme measures to reduce and diminish their costs.

We came in with a growth mode, as Robert described, with plans to put more pages in, plans to put more correspondents in, plans to broaden the newspaper and turn it without ever diminishing its business coverage, to turn in into a newspaper that would have more broad interest. There was a brilliant coincidence because just as we were doing all these things, the newspaper companies in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York were actually reducing their coverage, they were closing down bureaus; their business sections were looking more and more like personal finance sections all at the time we were doing these new things, fresh things, larger things. We’ve seen a great result for us in that we are the only newspaper that’s been able to show significant circulation growth and also make a profit.

Thomson: The other thing we did that was obvious to readers is we took the weekend section upmarket. We edit more of it as a canvas when, to be very frank, it had been a tad superficial in the past. How hot was the highest chili in town? How high was the highest heel?

We’ve moved on from that. Readers have noticed a difference. We’re seeing in retail, in particular both in New York and around the country, the increase in sales on Saturdays is greater than the increase during the weekday. That’s because we can actually feel the difference in quality.

The other point to make is that Les and Rupert emphasize that we would have one cost of content and then repurpose across it across various platforms.