Few newspapers have the name recognition of The Wall Street Journal, and having 42 million monthly readers means that’s not likely to change anytime soon. For all its cachet and name recognition, it’s just one of many holdings in the portfolio of the world’s biggest news company, News Corp, the brand that owns The Wall Street Journal.
Rupert Murdoch is the man behind the world's largest media company, News Corp, which bought the Dow Jones Company and The Wall Street Journal in 2007.
The Wall Street Journal is now a worldwide brand, with a European edition coming out of Brussels and a Hong-Kong-produced Asian version, but it actually evolved from a little newsletter aimed at the clients of three journalists named Charles Dow, Edward Jones and Charles Bergstresser. If a couple of those names sound familiar, then you might have guessed that the paper’s founder was the Dow Jones Company in 1882, which also founded the Dow Jones Industrial Average, about which its “Customer’s Afternoon Newsletter” was created. (Actually, Dow Jones still owns The Wall Street Journal, but Dow Jones is owned by News Corp.)
As its popularity grew, it decided to expand its ambitions, and the fledgling newsletter became The Wall Street Journal, first published on July 8, 1889. It was hardly a game-changing journal, though, since it would only have a circulation of 7,000 over a decade later upon Charles Dow’s 1902 death. Its Boston correspondent Clarence Barron capitalized on the upheaval caused by Dow’s departure, and the journalist bought the paper, for which he’d build a readership of 50,000 by the end of the 1920s. (He also started the sister publication Barron's in 1921.)
When Barron died in 1928, his daughters Jane and Martha Barron inherited The WSJ, and Jane’s husband Hugh Bancroft took over as publisher of the paper, though he killed himself in 1933 as the Great Depression grew ever deeper. This forced Jane to assume control of the Dow Jones Company and the paper.
She pushed through the Depression, continually growing its audience so much that the paper went national after World War II. The Wall Street Journal dominated the American news audience and would become the most circulated paper in America until USA Today knocked it off its throne in 2003. The Bancroft family would maintain a role at the paper until Rupert Murdoch and News Corp launched a successful takeover in 2007.
News Corp is no newcomer on the world news scene either, with a history stretching back to its founding as News Limited in 1922, way down under in Melbourne, Australia. The history of its founding is a little murky with conflicting histories. What is clear, though, is that a protege named Keith Murdoch slowly proved his hand at takeovers and other critical aspects of running the Australian news entity. By the time of his death in 1952, he’d created quite a stake in the company, allowing his son Rupert to step in at the tender age of 21.
Rupert Murdoch built News Corporation as a holding company for News Limited in 1979, and it became a juggernaut worldwide in media ownership, buying everything from MySpace to Fox Entertainment (and creating Fox News). Despite the estimated 28,000 people who work in the hundreds of holdings that News Corp has globally, for much of the last seven decades, News Corp has been the Rupert Murdoch show. However, times are changing, and the Murdoch family now owns 39% of voting shares in the empire. Murdoch was listed by Forbes in 2019 as having an estimated net worth of $19.4 billion, putting him 52nd on the world’s richest people list.
Still, the holdings under News Corp defy listing, as it’s hundreds of companies from Australia to England and everywhere in between. That became a problem in 2011 during news of a phone-hacking scandal in the U.K. News Corp’s “News of the World” paper was found trying to hack the British prime minister’s voicemail, along with dozens of other celebrities and power brokers.
To appease critics and government alike, Murdoch testified before the U.K. Parliament, apologized and took responsibility for his organization’s actions and their subsequent attempts at a coverup. News of the World was quickly sold, and News Corp would soon split into two entities: one for film and TV and the other for print and publishing.
The Wall Street Journal may be the jewel in its crown, but News Corp runs an astounding array of media companies around the world, employing at least 28,000 people. A small sampling of its properties include:
- New York Post
- HarperCollins Publishers
- The Daily Mirror
- Dow Jones
- News Marketing America
- The Sun
- The Sydney Herald
- The Boston Herald
- Chicago Sun-Times
- Sky News
- Fox News Channel
- The Telegraph
Then, there are companies in which it has a percentage, like owning 27% of the streaming site Hulu.
The 2019 advertising rate card for The Wall Street Journal states that the print circulation in the U.S. is 1,011,200. For that, a full-page, color, national ad in the paper would set you back about $328,000. The Eastern edition gets a circulation run of 422,301. The Central edition totals 366,311, and the Western edition has a run of 222,588.
The WSJ was one of the early adopters of a paywall for its online version, and that’s partly why it can boast an online subscription base of over 1.5 million readers.
Despite its cachet and worldwide audience, even in the height of newsprint, you never would have walked into your standard coffee shop and found a copy of it lying around. Its readership is select — readers are usually male (62% male versus 38% female), and 81% of them have graduated from college. Their median household income is around $242,000 with a net worth of about $1.5 million.
Over 30% of The WSJ audience earns more than $200,000 annually. In fact, 41% of its readers are classed as millionaires, and 35% are in top management.
The Wall Street Journal is considered a conservatively biased source, and most of its readers likely identify that way politically as well. However, it’s not really politics for which they’re reading the paper, as its primary audience is those with a heavy interest in the investment market.
There are those who believe that Rupert Murdoch created a media empire to spread his ilk of propaganda around the world. Owning a newspaper with a political bias is one thing, but when someone owns hundreds of them along with news channels like Sky News and Fox News Network, then compelling them to report the news with your bias is a whole other controversy.
Despite its political right-leaning bias in America, though, The Wall Street Journal’s Trump critiques have been harsh and somewhat regular throughout his presidency. In fact, the staff of The Wall Street Journal won a Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for their “Trump hush money” series of probes. (They've won over 35 Pulitzers in their time.)
In the end, The WSJ is definitely a biased publication, but it's also one of the world’s greatest newspapers, and it's still making headlines worldwide with its financial coverage and its great investigative reporting.