OLD Media Moves

The man who taught business journalism to Dow, Jones and Bergstresser

July 28, 2020

Posted by Chris Roush

John Kiernan

University of Arkansas journalism professor Rob Wells has an article in Journalism History about John Kiernan, the 19th century journalist who trained Charles Dow, Edward Jones and Charles Bergstresser before they launched Dow Jones & Co. and The Wall Street Journal.

Wells writes, “The young reporters soon began to chafe at the confines of Kiernan’s limited news reports. Wendt wrote, ‘Whether his (Dow’s) mining knowledge was of much benefit in his new job is doubtful, for Kiernan’s bulletins generally were entirely confined to crisp news developments and factual statements. Few clients at the time were looking for financial guidance from a messenger service.’ Seeking to expand Kiernan’s news offering, Dow proposed a daily news report on business. Such a proposal for a more analytical look at business news was in line with the earlier innovations of James Gordon Bennett and his ‘money article’ in the New York Herald, which, as Schudson observed, ‘turned the recording of facts into the analysis of the shape of events.’

“Kiernan, however, rejected Dow’s proposal for a daily analytical business report. ‘Kiernan, an extroverted man who was busy with his politics and advertising interests, wasn’t really interested. Kiernan simply wanted Dow to provide good, readable news copy in a hurry, and if he possessed extra energy, he could go out to solicit new clients.’

“Viewed through the evolutionary theory of the firm, Kiernan’s decision was a significant mistake. He failed to seize a significant opportunity to expand his news coverage and empower a significant employee to gain skills and expand their influence. Dow’s daily report on business was attuned to emerging developments in the market; his instincts were validated when Dow, Jones & Co. became a success a few years later providing that type of information. Instead, Kiernan suppressed innovation and direct his employees to gather new clients based on the existing business model.”

Read more here.

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