WSJ moves special sections online, adds expert chatter and Google Hangouts

When newspapers print a special sections about a specific field of business, the features can be catnip for advertisers who jump at the chance to reach a narrow audience segment interested in, say, 401K’s or real estate or retail. The challenge for publishers is how to replicate that high value product online.

The Wall Street Journal is attempting to do this with the launch today of six new digital verticals that match the special sections that appear in the Journal’s print edition about 60 times a year (Wealth Management, Retirement, Energy, Leadership, Health Care, Small Business). According to senior editor Larry Rout, the idea is to ensure this content doesn’t sink as quickly when it goes online.

To keep up the chatter around the special topics, the Journal is asking a stable of thought leaders and public personalities — including Dilbert creator Scott Adams and author Amy Tan — to blog and offer opinions in a live stream. The site is also hosting periodic “Google(s goog) Hangouts” where business experts will chat and take questions from viewers.

The idea is fine in theory but will anyone actually show up in the online verticals? After all, the web is awash with financial and business chatter, meaning the Journal Reports may have a hard time standing out. On the other hand, Rout says the Reports’ contents have done very well when published as individual stories on the WSJ website; placing that content in dedicated verticals and combining it with marquee personalities and the WSJ brand mean the Reports have a chance to gain online traction. We’ll check back in half a year to see how it pans out.