Content Management: Dow Jones Makes Headlines

It’s a familiar scene in the world’s business and financial centers: bankers and brokers, lawyers and executives, clad in dark suits, flipping through a distinctive broadsheet newspaper, consuming that day’s news on the movings and shakings of the corporate world.

The Wall Street Journal, with 31 Pulitzer Prizes under its belt, has long been revered as a must-read for the business and financial industries. First published in 1889, today the Journal employs more than 600 journalists worldwide and has more than 2 million paid subscribers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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But the Journal’s owner, the New York-based Dow Jones & Co., views itself as much more than just a newspaper publisher. A forerunner in electronic distribution, Dow Jones first beamed out financial information in the late 1890s on its stock ticker, invented by Thomas Edison. In 1990, it acquired Telerate, a computer terminal-based provider of financial news and market data that competed with Bloomberg and Reuters. In January 1995, Dow Jones bought, one of the biggest financial news sites on the Web.

So, it seemed like a natural progression for the company’s flagship paper to develop an electronic presence. In 1993, Neil Budde, then an editor in one of Dow Jones’ electronic publishing divisions, set out with a team of developers to build what is now The Wall Street Journal Online, the largest paid subscriber site on the Web, with 765,000 readers shelling out $50 to more than $100 a year (print subscribers get a discount) for access.

With news readers flocking to the Internet, newspaper publishers have been forced to invest more dollars in pushing content onto their Web sites—and adapt to using content management software tools that organize articles, ads and personalization features.

For Dow Jones, ascending to its perch—and grappling with the content management and delivery tools needed to publish electronically to a constantly growing subscriber base—posed a series of challenges for the venerable publisher. “The good news is, it looked very seamless and easy from the outside,” Budde says. “It wasn’t so seamless on the inside.”

In 1993, Budde, now the general manager of Yahoo News, was overseeing the development of features like search capabilities for Dow Jones News/Retrieval, an electronic archiving service. A career newsman with no formal technical background, Budde taught himself Visual Basic, a programming language designed to create applications and graphical user interfaces, in the hopes of creating a new delivery model for the Journal.

But Budde didn’t go immediately for the Web; he spent all of 1994 working on a software product that Dow Jones would distribute on a pay-for basis. The idea was that users would dial in to an Internet access provider like America Online and download an electronic version of the Journal’s contents. As the year ended, though, Budde and his team realized the software product would take too long to develop.

“It was then that we basically said the approach of doing it with proprietary software would take two years [to create a product],” Budde says, referring to the time the team—with limited consumer software development experience—thought it would need to finish coding, testing and fixing a product that could be shipped to thousands of customers. “So we decided, let’s take a look at the Internet.”

At the time, technology managers were trying to figure out how to monetize the emerging Web. Newspaper publishers didn’t see the new platform as a threat to their core business—at least, not yet—so creating Web editions wasn’t a high priority, according to Bruce Milne, vice president of industry solutions for Vignette, an Austin, Texas, content management software firm founded in 1995. Back then, Milne says, “There just wasn’t a good business case for moving to the Web.”

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