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Dow Jones chief exec addresses the future of news

City alumni, William Lewis gives inaugural Marjorie Deane lecture on the future of news.

by Amy Borrett

Journalism is facing a crisis of personalisation, according to the chief executive of the Dow Jones Group, William Lewis, who gave the inaugural Marjorie Deane lecture.

The lecture was organised in partnership with the Marjorie Deane Foundation, a sponsorship for postgraduate financial journalism students.

Addressing an audience of City, University of London students and high-profile journalists, which included ITV political editor Robert Peston and editorial director of the BBC Kamal Ahmed, Lewis stressed the importance of abandoning the “one-size-fits all” approach to journalism.

“We face a situation where great media brands might not survive,” said the former Telegraph editor. “Just when there’s never been a greater urgency for those readers to consumer fearless, fact-checked journalism.”

Lewis called on publications to support the “risky, heroic work” of journalists by personalising content, so that they can capture the attention of their readers in a world where they are increasingly distracted.

“At Dow Jones, we see the personalisation crisis not as a disaster, but as an exciting opportunity. But I look around at many other news organisations and I do see a disaster in the making,” said Lewis.

Dow Jones, whose flagship publication the Wall Street Journal exceeded 2 million digital subscriptions last week, has pioneered this approach by introducing a dynamic paywall. Using algorithms, the platform assesses the reader’s behaviour on the site to determine the number of articles they can access before being asked to subscribe.

He urged the students in the audience to use the event to “nobble” their prospective employers about what they are doing with data and personalisation, “because if they’re not already doing it, it’s too late”.

Before the lecture he talked with students on the Master’s in Financial Journalism about his own experience staring out as a financial journalist after he had graduated from City.

He commended them on their decision to take the course, which he said develops some of the most important skills for making it has a hard-hitting journalism. Using a knowledge of finance and data to hold powerful figures to account is still important, said Lewis, who despite recognising the crisis in journalism, confessed to being “very bullish about the future for quality news”.

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