Anyone who has read The Wall Street Journal regularly over the years can't help but notice a decided shift in the tone and content of the print newspaper and the Web site, which has grown to include more non-business content: culture, lifestyles, leisure activities, and the like.
It's all part of a strategy to make the paper more accessible, increase the audience, and attract new advertisers. One of the biggest changes is more content targeting female readers, although a new online section entitled "Journal Women" has since been quietly scrapped.
And it appears to be paying off, at least online. The last couple of months have brought a series of articles addressing issues of concern to women, which became some of the most widely read articles posted on WSJ.com. It didn't hurt that they also courted controversy by touching on hot-button issues, such as race, gender relations, and teen sexuality.
First January saw the WSJ publish an excerpt from Battle Cry of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," which almost seemed designed to provoke strong reactions from female readers trying to balance their personal and professional responsibilities. It succeeded admirably, igniting an online controversy and attracting plenty of media attention for the newspaper and its editorial thrust.
Then February brought another opinion piece guaranteed to stir watercooler banter and online debate: in "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" in which author Kay S. Hymowitz argued that men are increasingly enjoying an extended adolescence through their 20s, putting off their adult responsibilities and leaving potential female partners in the lurch.
This essay was especially well-positioned to take advantage of gender dynamics: on one hand it played to the grievances of some female readers, but was also guaranteed to provoke interest (and no small number of indignant responses) from male readers. Most recently, last week saw the publication of an article titled "Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?" which switches back to the first tactic: courting controversy, and a large online audience, by suggesting that well-educated, professional women are in some way failing their children. In this case, the supposed victims are their daughters, whom middle-aged mothers allow to dress "like prostitutes," according to author Jennifer Moses; in part, because they are afraid of being seen as hypocrites in light of their own libertine youths.
Again, this last essay (like much of the new content targeting women) is cleverly positioned to attract curious male readers as well, drawn by the prospect of getting a glimpse into the psychological workings of women.
Still, it remains to be seen whether this new focus on issues of interest to women will translate into a long-term increase in the number of female readers.
According to the WSJ.com's own stats from May 2010, digital readership is still stuck at a 75%-25% male-female ratio; more recently, Quantcast has it at 69%-31%, suggesting that a shift may indeed be underway. The newspaper's print readership was 62.3% male and 37.7% female in fall 2009, according to MRI.