Happy Birthday Wall Street Journal

Jul 8, 2014 | Better Writing

The first edition of the Wall Street Journal was published July 8, 1889

In many ways, the paper was an expanded version of the “Customers’ Afternoon Letters” that Charles Dow had been publishing since 1884. Check out the interactive version of that first issue, and you’ll see that an awful lot looks the same.

The name is the same, right down to the period at the end. I didn’t even notice that it was there until today’s Journal pointed it out. The layout is similar, except that the two side columns are reserved for advertisements.

Today’s Journal is different

You don’t have to search hard for evidence of that. The interactive version of the first issue is an example of how much the digital revolution has changed the way we find and consume information.

I don’t read the paper Journal anymore. Every day I scan the headlines on my phone. I email some of them to my Evernote file so I can read them later. As a result, I find more of the things that I know interest me and miss more of the interesting but “off-topic” things I might find browsing the paper.

Most change has been gradual

We talk a lot about the rapid pace of change these days. But most of the changes at the Journal and in the rest of life happened over a fairly long period. The Dow Jones Industrial Average didn’t appear until the Journal had been published for seven years. Then it consisted of twelve stocks. One of them was General Electric.

If you’re in business you should read the Journal

The Journal is still the prime source of business news for most businesspeople. There are lots of other interesting things in it, but business is the main course.

If you write for business people you should read the Journal

If you write a business blog or you’re writing a business book, you should read the Journal. The people you’re writing for are reading it.

The Wall Street Journal is a good example for writers

If you want to get better at the craft of writing for businesspeople, you can learn a lot from the Journal. If you want a guide, pick up a copy of The Art and Craft of Feature Writing by William E. Blundell. If you aspire to write the kind of articles that appear in the Journals “A-hed” column, this book is a great place to start. Blundell based it on his in-house writing classes at the Wall Street Journal.