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Oct. 2, 2023, 3:58 p.m.

The Wall Street Journal debuts a new podcast with investing news for “Joe Sixpack”

Downloads for The Wall Street Journal’s podcasts were up 14% over the past year. Downloads for its flagship podcast, The Journal, increased 20% over the same time period.

The Wall Street Journal is adding to its stable of podcasts with a new weekly show aimed at listeners who invest. The goal? To make investing feel accessible and fun in the same way that following sports or fantasy leagues can be.

WSJ’s Take on the Week — hosted by the genial Dion Rabouin, a financial market reporter for the Journal — debuted last month. Early episodes have looked at the Consumer Price Index, what Nike earnings say about the state of retail, and how student loans restarting could impact the economy.

“I know what you’re getting from most finance shows — a lot of insider jargon that tries to go over your head or shows that treat you like you can’t even spell Dow Jones,” Rabouin says in a promo for the show. WSJ’s Take on the Week promises to feature “straightforward analysis” in “plain English,” but won’t be explaining what a 401k is. It’s a fine line to walk, acknowledged Philana Patterson, head of audio at The Wall Street Journal.

“We were really looking to fill a space we saw for this kind of content that really helps people understand the market, understand finance, understand what’s going on with companies, and how that may impact their own investing decisions. We’re not doing investing advice or anything like that, but there really does seem to be a need out there for people to understand these things better,” Patterson said. “We want to appeal to a younger audience, people who may or may not have a lot of expertise in the markets. We’re trying to thread that needle — and it can be a challenge to do this — of doing a smart show that helps people understand what’s going on, but that doesn’t talk down to the professional investor. We’re really hoping to attract both.”

“I’ve found, through my reporting, that the people that know this space the best can talk about it in a really simple and straightforward way,” Rabouin added. “I wanted, you know, Joe Sixpack to get that. I wanted to be able to bring that same kind of analysis to the people that I talk to — because a lot of my friends and family, that’s where they’re at. They know I work at The Wall Street Journal and they want to know, like, ‘Should I be buying Facebook stock right now?’ At the end of the day, everyone’s got to do their own research but we’re providing you with a solid foundation so you can become more educated and feel more confident.”

The new show debuts during a turbulent time for the podcast industry. Audio giants from Spotify to NPR have cancelled shows and layoffs have reached well into the hundreds this year. Though overall U.S. podcast ad revenue continues to rise — and has outpaced growth in the overall digital ad market — some media companies have found it difficult to sell spots for even their most popular shows. The perennial heavyweight The Daily has run without a full slate of ads, breaking instead for in-house promotions of The New York Times’ subscription products, and Spotify struggled to sell ads for one top-ranked podcast even as listening hours grew as much as 60%. Maybe most concerning for publishers? For the first time since 2018, news is no longer the top revenue-generating genre in podcasts.

I asked the Journal if they’d seen any warning signs in their own audio business. (Overall digital advertising revenue at The Wall Street Journal dipped 10% in the previous year, according to the most recent News Corp. earnings report, though podcast revenue was not broken out into its own category.) Daniel Rosen, the Journal’s vice president of video and audio strategy, declined to share revenue figures but emphasized he’s bullish about the Journal’s future in podcasting.

“I can’t speak to specific growth or declines in ad revenue, but certainly we hear the same news that you do about the podcast industry as a whole,” Rosen said. “But what we do see is that consistently, across all of our shows, year after year, we’re seeing increases in the number of people who are listening to our shows and the frequency at which they’re listening.”‘

Across The Wall Street Journal’s editorial podcasts — that’s any show not produced by WSJ Opinion — downloads were up 14% over the past year, Rosen said. Downloads for their flagship podcast, The Journal, increased 20% over the same time period. The Journal has also found success with the twice-daily What’s News show, which typically clocks in around 1o or 12 minutes, and special series that have focused on topics like the weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and how Marvel took over the movie business.

Patterson, who took the reins over newsroom audio in January, has added a new audio reporter to The Journal, highlighted more original compositions to make the shows feel more “contemporary,” and solicited (and incorporated) more audience feedback. (One small change that got them many more listener responses? Asking for feedback at the top of the show rather than waiting ’til the end.) At The Journal, that looked like more opportunities to show journalists being relatable and unstuffy. For What’s News, the tweaks have included reformatting the show to be faster paced, getting to the most important stories earlier in the show, and adding more headlines at listener request.

The Wall Street Journal currently has 3.9 million subscribers, according to its most recent earnings report. That includes 3.4 million (or 86%) digital-only subscribers, a 10% increase over the previous year. Patterson said the audio team is working to reach younger, more diverse audiences with their audio work.

“Our podcasts are all in front of the paywall whereas the Journal is subscription-based so we’re really going after new audiences here,” she said. “That’s really important. We want to get more people closer to what we do and to the stories that we’re doing. We want to introduce them to the great journalists that we have by featuring them in the interviews we do. We’re hoping, over time, it’ll get people hooked on the Journal brand and that they might become subscribers down the road.”

POSTED     Oct. 2, 2023, 3:58 p.m.
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