Q&A: Dow Jones Media Group head Latour talks strategy
Almar Latour is the publisher and executive vice president for Dow Jones Media Group, overseeing Barron’s, MarketWatch, Financial News, and Mansion Global, all part of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, as well as various digital start-ups. He is responsible for the group’s editorial operations as well as its profits and losses.
He previously oversaw two major redesigns for The Journal’s website, launched numerous successful international and U.S. blogs, revamped The Chinese Wall Street Journal and kicked off The Wall Street Journal in Japan.
Before his promotion to publisher, Latour was executive editor for The Journal and Dow Jones, responsible for unifying the editorial staff into a single global newsroom and transitioning The Journal to a digitally-driven news operation.
He was also editor in chief for The Journal and Dow Jones Newswires in Asia, where he expanded the publishing company’s digital footprint.
Prior to his time in Asia, Latour was managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Online, where he expanded coverage of business and markets, as well as personal finance, sports, travel and multimedia storytelling, and oversaw a major site redesign in September 2008.
He served as bureau chief at the Journal’s technology group in New York and as deputy bureau chief. In March 2005, he won the World Leadership Forum’s business journalism award for “Best Story of Business Leadership” for his coverage of the oil industry.
Latour spoke with Talking Biz News by telephone on Thursday about Dow Jones Media Group. What follows is an edited transcript.
Why did Dow Jones decide to create the DJ Media Group two years ago?
We had several goals in the formation. One, to accelerate growth for a stable of top brands by giving them increased, dedicated attention and focus. Another part of the mission is to create digital and live journalism growth. And a third is to experiment and innovate in a real commercial environment and with a startup mentality under the roof of a large media group. Those are the three key points.
How did your career as a business journalist prepare you to run this operation?
As a business journalist, a financial journalist, I have always had a deep interest in business and finance as well as our own industry. As a reporter, I had a curiosity that journalists will recognize. I always asked a lot of questions and connected the dots. And I’ve always thought about our business from a strategic point for a long time, how we can get the most out of teams. We’re always focused on strategic decision thinking. For example, about 10 years ago, the relaunch of WSJ.com took it from a print newspaper on a terminal to a vibrant and modern digital presence.
I also realized that as my ideas on the industry evolved, to really have an impact and move as fast as I wanted, I could do more if I had responsibility for the business as a whole. And it’s been a great and rewarding experience.
What’s been your major pushes these past two years?
There are commercial and business goals to accelerate digital advertising and foster membership growth. The past couple of years have been incredibly busy. One category is new skills, so a great influx of new perspectives and a globally diverse management, and act with speed by empowering the editors and managers to make decisions that they think are necessary to achieve our goals. We are putting our customers and the audience at the center of our attention and focusing on that and having that driven by data. I would say expertise is really at the heart of everything we do, the editors and reporters and managers, to deepen our expertise while simultaneously trying to reach a much bigger audience.
Last, it’s accountability and transparency and clear communication. We’ve tried to create a culture here where we judge ourselves by results. It’s been refreshing to have that kind of interaction with our teams and journalists and business leaders.
Barron’s has undergone a staff overhaul under its new editor. What’s the impetus of that?
Barron’s is only the latest example where there have been a lot of changes. There have been changes across the board for the last couple of years. In our industry, change is unavoidable and necessary. With Baron’s it started at the top with Katherine Bell who came from Harvard Business Review and had an understanding of online subscribers, and then Daniel Bernard, who has worked in the past at Dow Jones and in the past was chief product officer at Gannett. They were given a mandate to strengthen the expertise in core coverage areas, to shift the newsroom sharply to digital and to connect more deeply with the audience, and to find new ways of connecting with the audience.
Together, they are looking at Barron’s with the concept as empowering your future, answering the question of what it means to be a good investor. There are so many changes in the business world and investing and really in every facet of our lives, it’s important for Barron’s to stay ahead of that, so it can bring the analysis for readers to chart the future.
With all of those changes, we do stay connected to the core mission, the same one that Clarence Barron had, and that is to seek truth in investing and finance. And Katherine and Daniel have been great at that. There’s a lot of further changes coming with how people interact with Barron’s.
Tell me about the decision to create a Mansion Global print magazine.
Mansion Global is still a startup franchise. It was created around some of our core values, great journalism and entpreneruship, but was started as a digital initiative. It has been growing rapidly every year under the leadership of Mae Cheng, the editor and publisher. As we booked success after success, we decided to expand the franchise first to events, and we saw that was very popular with customers.
The people interested in luxury real restate enjoy taking that information and analysis and aesthetics on multiple platforms, and print is definitely one of them. We thought we could do it profitably, and that is the case. We are doing this as a very health expansion of the Mansion Global franchise. The reception of the magazine has been very great and encouraging.
How does the Media Group collaborate with the Wall Street Journal?
It is a separate group and it was created with a separate purposes. But I grew up there journalistically, and part of the Dow Jones newsroom extends from The Wall Street Journal. We use the Journal as a platform, so sometimes Barron’s rankings will run inside the Wall Street Journal as an insert. And we share content from time to time when it is relevant. The newsroom is separate, and the businesses operate separately by design because we move in different ways. But it is a cordial relationship.
How does MarketWatch fit into all of this?
MarketWatch is a key part of Dow Jones Media Group. Increasingly,. we are operating as a single global newsroom and operation. We share expertise and resources and obviously the same mission, and we think of our audience collectively. MarketWatch has a key function in that. Barron’s powers your future as an investor, but MarketWatch powers the now. It narrates the ups and downs of the market and gives a snapshot of what it all means now.
MarketWatch is digitally native but it has undergone a lot of change in becoming mobile, and it mas made many many improvements to its data. Most of all, it has the most passionate and driven staff of reporters and contributors that I have encountered. They are on fire and have broken record after record.
Together, we have the most influential audience of CEOs, financial professionals and investors in the U.S. and the world. The more our products collaborate, the stronger we are in serving that audience. You’ll see much more of that in the future.
You hired Francesco Guerrera to run Europe a year ago. What’s the strategy there?
The goals for Dow Jones Media Group are the same globally as they are in the U.S., so Francesco and Europe shares those goal. But more specifically, he was given the goal of expanding the reach of Financial News, our publication in London. It has been a successful year there in that the audience has grown to a bigger level than ever.
It’s also been a strong year journalistically. Francesco has brought on a new editor, Chris Newlands, for Financial News. More broadly, we want to find new partners for Dow Jones Media internationally. There’s a lot in store there. The majority of our audience is in the U.S., and that remains our core focus. But there is more that we can do for Barron’s and MarketWatch in Europe and Asia. So he is very busy.
What are some future growth areas that you’re exploring?
We continue to invest and grow live journalism. We already have a large number of conferences and events, and you will see that grow sharply in the years to come. We will push our digital membership and overall membership in the year ahead, and we have initiatives waiting in the wings. Collectively, measured through Omniture, we had more than 40 million users for the group collectively last month. We want to continue to grow that.
We want to use emerging technologies as tools to give better analysis that journalists can use and to manage our business. And we have to stay ahead of the trends that are playing out on a global stage. We have to expand our content set to make sure we provide relevant analysis. The core goals are to grow digital and to grow membership.
I am intrigued by the hiring of a director of financial literacy last year. What does that person do?
Financial literacy as you know is a key issue in the U.S. and also in global society. In Asia, it’s very relevant. We know from statistics how little most people know about how to handle basic personal finance. And we also hear from our clients that it is an area of priority. So we have an expertise that has been built over a long period of time in the area of finance, and we want to share that and help our clients and customers. We are working to align with clients around that topic. We also need to find future users and get our content into the hands of students and help educate them to help advance financial basics.
We care about financial literacy as a topic. Jeremy Olshan at MarketWatch is very passionate about the topic and makes sure issues around it such as student loans get covered. So putting our arms around it and looking at it in a very relevant way is what the task is.
Anything else I haven’t asked about?
Our audience is bigger than ever. A membership is at a high. MarketWatch is targeting its best performance ever. And that’s the result of very skilled and passionate journalists and business colleagues. It’s great to see Dow Jones Media Group’s vision come true. But we have a lot more work to do. It’s very energetic to see engineers sitting next to journalists. There’s a lot of experimentation and fun.