Wednesday, January 4, 2006

The Changing of the Guard: Zannino's Opportunities and Challenges at Dow Jones

The world reports on the announced appointment of COO Richard Zannino to the CEO role at Dow Jones & Company, besting Karen Elliott House, wife of retiring CEO Peter Kann, and Dow Jones SVP L. Gordon Crovitz, head of online publishing. Zannino becomes the first non-journalist at the helm of Dow Jones since 1933, an indication that the DJ board is confident in the editorial integrity of their products but eager to find ways to position the company more attractively for investors existing and otherwise. This is a sensible goal, but while Zannino comes in holding many of the necessary cards already to make effective changes the legacy of non-journalists stepping in to the shoes of CEO-journalists is not altogether attractive. One thinks of the trials that Peter Jobs took on in the wake of the much beloved ex-journalist CEO/MD Glen Renfrew at Reuters. Jobs also was brought on to instill investor confidence, but failed to crack many of the hidebound traditions in that organization to the point that real change could be affected.

Zannino assumes the helm of a company with enormous credibility and still-strong fundamental assets, but needs to consider how to preserve editorial integrity while at the same time trimming Dow Jones into an organization that can compete more effectively in the shifting marketplace for business news and information. Inevitably this will mean more profound culture changes than have been undertaken to date. A non-journalist may be the more objective type required to accomplish these changes, but the best of luck to Zannino in navigating one of the strongest news room cultures on the planet. One way or another Dow Jones is about to confront its future as both a news property and an investment; hopefully their chief intellectual assets will be up to the task of imagining what a strong Dow Jones can be in the 21st century. Our best wishes to Peter Kann as he moves on from his strong legacy of maintaining Dow Jones credibility and value through some of the most tumultuous times in publishing.
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