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Wall Street Journal Asia Editor Paul Beckett On their Presence in India

Business publication Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow Jones & Co, a division of News Corporation, has an online presence through its Indian online edition and India Real Time blog. The Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal is also published in India. In an interaction with MediaNama, Paul Beckett, recently appointed the Asia Editor of the Wall Street Journal, spoke about its presence in India, their editorial approach, the difference between the web and print editions, the India Real Time blog and its Hindi edition, Indian readers, among other things. Note that at the time this interview was conducted (last month), Beckett was the South Asia Bureau Chief, operating out of New Delhi.

Medianama: Why is the Wall Street Journal in India?
Beckett: We are in India for two reasons – one for traditional correspondence from India writing about one of the important countries in the world. Two, to bring Wall Street Journal’s journalism to India and Indian readers and be a part of the ongoing conversation.

Medianama: How is online Wall Street Journal India different from its fax similie hard copy edition?
Beckett: Asian Wall Street Journal is what we publish here in our print edition. It looks at an enormous part of Asia and India is only a part of it. We publish only what is important about India in it. On the Indian website, we focus on India, and we publish 20 good stories in a day which are in-depth stories and I will put them up even against any Indian publication and we might even be doing a better job than the Indian publications.

Medianama: How would you compare WSJ India with New York Times India?
Beckett: We have two kinds of Indian offerings on India.wsj where global news are selected by editors for Indians. This section has both international news and Indian news. We also publish in India for Indian audience which includes international news, Indian news and Indian analysis. I don’t see that on the NY times India.

Medianama: Why is the journal the only News Corp news business in India?
Beckett: We work with completely different company so I can’t answer that question. We are part of Dow Jones.
(ed: Dow Jones was acquired by News Corp in 2007)

Medianama: How many people do you have on board? How does this affect the stories you do?
Beckett: 35 – 40 people, including newswires that is split between Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. The team gives us the ability to cover more Indian news. What we produce from India every day, I’m sure, is more than any other international publications in India including editorial, opinions, real time newswires in India etc. We are breaking news, unparalleled news. That’s what we use the people for.

Medianama: How many people does Dow Jones have in India?
Beckett: We are integrated now (Dow Jones and WSJ India), and I run them both. There are also some administrators but not substantially more than 35-40.

Medianama: How have you build up your editorial presence in india?
Beckett: I think we have built it up in a number of different ways. Obviously we have traditional foreign correspondance that’s where our competition remains. We have invested in creating a digital platform where we think the future is going and we are present in the domestic landscapes in ways that others are not.

Medianama: How do you see yourself differently from publications that cover similar stories?
Beckett: I think we are writing this news for global audience. The gang rape news has garnered global audience. We have had stories on the issues 3 times on the front page of our U.S offline publication. I think we have got very moving perspective of the victim and friends. I think something that we have managed that others have not is a series of debates and stories around an issue on the online edition. If you are an offline paper, at the most you can publish one or two stories. But on the digital platform, you can do so much more. We have done 10 stories on the same issue from different perspectives. India real times is an extension of the limited number of stories that we can write for print paper and it has been pretty extensive.

Medianama: Editorially do you think people treat you (WSJ) differently compared to Indian publications?
Beckett: I think they know that there are lines we don’t cross. People know these lines and more importantly we know it. We bring practices that we use globally and I think readers know it.

Medianama: How are you approaching your stories from India? How different is it from your approach of stories back in the U.S? Why the difference in approach?
Beckett: When you are writing for global audience, you have to explain more. The audience does not know much about India so then we go into specifications. So with respect to news especially for offline publication, you have to explain more than an US story. For India real time, it is a very sophisticated Indian audience who read the online platform. If you write for a foreign audience, you can give basic details but if you are writing for the Indian audience, you need to be as sophisticated as the audience.

Medianama: WSJ India doesn’t seem to be breaking any news stories. So is the Indian edition about going deeper with specific stories?
Beckett: I don’t think we don’t break news. But of course all of us want to break more news. We do break a lot of news. We don’t break news on India Real Times.

Medianama: Do you feel that there are any limitations because you are operating as an online only publication?
Beckett: No why would there be limitations? With respect to readership yes there are limitations. Like the government stops us from publishing a publication specific to India. We can absolutely do everything we want to online. In 10 years, newspaper would be more digital centric, not print centric and we have taken this opportunity as the market is moving our way. The market isn’t moving the print way.

Medianama: What drives your decisions for choosing a story segment?
Beckett: I think we have a decent ingrown sense of what people want from the WSJ and we want to cater to that. We also cover a huge range of things. Even if our audience is into business, they have interests in other things in the world and we want to cater to that as well. Our audience have a wide range of interest and we want to make sure that they are informed and entertained by the Wall Street Journal.

Medianama: Who are your target audience – Indian or international readers looking at India?
Beckett: Both require different sensibilities. What enables the decision? In India we are targeting, an audience of people who want different perspective of well researched, well written stories with a business slant. We have audiences who pay for serious headlines. We also have general business news and people who come for India centric news. Wall Street Journal is not for everyone but it is for people who are looking for serious journalism well done.

Medianama: Is there something that has surprised you about the readers in India?
Beckett: Not much. Indians are passionate readers. India is one of the fantastic markets for journalists to be in. They read, comment, criticize. People spot well written, well researched pieces. We want to stay on the right side of it. People are open to good journalism even if from foreign publication. “Here I have a good piece, I feel smarter if I read it” – that’s their goal.

Medianama: How many Indian subscribers do you have?
Beckett: I can’t give you the numbers. Lets say we are ahead of the market with respect to paid market. If we are giving news of value to you, you should pay for it. We would like people to move that way. But it is not like that here in India. People know about the way we work. We encourage people to subscribe. We haven’t gone far but we are encouraging them to pay for good news. NY times etc are also pushing subscription based model.

Medianama: What is the traffic that you receive on the Wall Street Journal’s India online and India real time English and hindi sites?
Beckett: I can’t give you the numbers.

Medianama: Why set up the India Real Time and why Hindi? How is it presently doing?
Beckett: I think what we are trying to do is to create a community of interest for people with keen interest in India. It doesn’t matter where they are, Indians elsewhere, or even Belgians who worked here, also for Indians here. We want to be what WSJ is in the U.S.A. We want to be this in India, China, Korea and all the places where we are located with local presence. The aim is to offer something that is specifically garnered for India. Hindi is an experiment to see how the appetite is for that, to see whether it makes sense for us to be reproducing India Real Time in Hindi. We are just testing the waters.

Medianama: It is interesting to see English ads on your Hindi site. How does advertising for India Real time work?
Beckett: I don’t really know. But I suspect that these are programmed ads irrespective of what is on the left side. That’s why the ads are coming in English and that probably explains it.

Medianama: Who handles business for india?
Beckett:The Wall Street Journal, Hong Kong,  handles the business for India.

Medianama: What is WSJ India’s road map?
Beckett: We are formalizing that now. We are working on a more robust editorial presence. We are pretty early on having India focused website and additionally we also have India Real Time. Our competition tried it but din’t manage it. What we are formulating now is that. We don’t have that nail bang yet. I’m sorry I can’t give more details on that.

Medianama: What are your views on online operations of mainstream businesses in India?
Beckett:  I think a huge gamut of the entire print industry is run out of India. I hear from my Indian journalist friends that online remains secondary. Print helps you reach audiences that you have not managed before, but we have pushed hard on digital.

Medianama: What are your views on FDI in news media?
Beckett: I think if they were to open up anymore, we would look more closely at the market but we don’t anticipate that it would happen anytime soon.

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