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As WSJ turns 125 years old new challenges emerge

Bernice Napach

One hundred and twenty-five years ago the first issue of The Wall Street Journal was published. The four-page, four-column afternoon paper cost two cents and the Dow closed at just under 41 that day. The paper now is much thicker with three to four separate sections, and costs $2 or $2.50 an issue on the newsstand, depending on where you live. The Dow is trading near 16,900 having retreated from a record high above 17,000 last Thursday.

Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker writes in a letter to readers today that the Journal is the top-selling daily newspaper in the U.S. with over 2.2 million subscribers who read it online, on their mobile phones and in print. It has reporters in more than 75 countries as well as 12 global versions published in nine languages.

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Baker concedes that the Journal like many other newspapers around the world has been affected by a "challenging" advertising environment. "Newspaper advertising in the U.S. has been down substantially and we haven't been immune to that," says Baker. "But we've grown our digital advertising revenue significantly...it is a very significant part of our revenue right now. "

In addition, Baker says the Journal has been adding subscribers and charging them more, and as a result  its "circulation revenues have become more and more important and have replaced a good deal of [its] advertising revenue."

In its first quarter earnings report News Corp reported a 10% drop in ad revenue and weakness in print advertising as well as declining circulation but it did not provide details on specific publications including The Wall Street Journal.

We asked Baker if he could envision a time when the Journal will publish only online as some other publications have done in the past few years. "I suspect not," says Baker. "Everybody thought when TV came along radio would disappear and when the Internet came along TV and radio would disappear... and newspapers would disappear. They didn't."

He expects there "will probably still be some demand" for the print edition though less and less as time passes. "We still sell a quarter of a million print copies now; that will probably decline and it will be replaced by digital sales...[but] some people like that feeling of having a print newspaper."

This week The New York Times reported that the Journal is said to have laid off 20 to 40 staffers in recent weeks, including veteran reporters and editors, but the paper declined to comment other than to say that it "will be eliminating certain positions."