Evidently, Karen Elliott House is happy even as Bill Keller sneers, but, man, is the new Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal awful or what? Since two different people said this to me last weekend, we’re one away from a trend and two away from a Hardening Consensus: It’s a downer to get on Saturday—it reminds you of work.

(Full disclosure: BusinessWeek’s top editor Steve Adler, who hired me, came over from the Journal earlier this year. And since we’re in parenthetical mode, here I will gracefully sidestep the fact that BusinessWeek, which hits newsstands on Fridays, is designed for busy execs to catch up with the news they missed over the week.)

I don’t get bummed out when I see the Saturday edition. I don’t obsess over Keller’s there’s-been-no-breaking-news-there thing. (They will, soon enough.) But I do get that there’s been nothing good to read, and that what’s in there reads sort of like what’s in the Journal itself, just not as good.

The funny thing is that during the week the Journal’s been rock solid even though it’s lost, basically, the entire layer of editorial talent from which they were supposed to find the next editor. (That would be Adler; Joanne Lipman, who’s starting up Conde Nast’s forthcoming business magazine, and Larry Ingrassia, who’s now at the Times). It’s consistently read better than the Times, which is not a conclusion I often reach. At this rate I’m two Saturdays away from changing my mind.

Update: Further Journal shrinkage. Bootlegged Karen Elliott House memo on the upcoming changes after the jump.

Everyone's going to freak out about the shorter-stories stuff outlined below. (The shrinking size is also likely to mean fewer stories.) But the part about reducing commoditized news and stock quotes is actually smart. If other newspapers are smart, they'll soon start doing the same.

Subject: An announcement from Karen Elliott House

> > To All Wall Street Journal Colleagues:

I'm delighted to announce our latest major innovation in the continuing evolution of The Wall Street Journal franchise. In an initiative that begins now and fully launches in January 2007, we will be redesigning and reorganizing the Journal, including adopting an industry-standard web-width, to better serve our customers. This goal will require the very best work of all of us in the months ahead and will result in the following outcomes:

* A more appealing, conveniently-sized Journal with improved navigation, fewer story jumps, and better grouping of stories that will benefit readers and advertisers and further improve our business.

* Enhanced integration and differentiation between our print and online editions of the Journal. These enhancements will give our customers the best business and market news and analysis in the world, in any format that they choose to access.

* The potential for an even more efficient printing and distribution network that will provide a fresher Journal to our print readers, deepening reader and advertiser loyalty to this great newspaper.

* Reduced production costs, resulting in significant and permanent savings, mostly from reduced usage of newsprint.

Shrinking the web width-in layman's terms producing the Journal on a smaller piece of paper than the uniquely large size currently used-will be a major physical project that will require refitting 19 company-owned presses at 17 sites. By printing the paper in dimensions used by most newspapers nationwide, we also will be able to print the Journal at some non-Dow Jones plants closer to some key metropolitan areas, getting a later paper to readers while reducing distribution costs.

This will enhance our flexibility among printing sites to better serve existing and new customers in the future. This project also will be a catalyst for change that will extend what we started in 2002 with the introduction of the content, organization and design changes of Today's Journal. It is part of our continuing effort to increase relevance and convenience of the print Journal to meet changing readership habits in a world where Internet usage is growing. Thus, we also will work with our online colleagues to increase the linkages between the print and online editions while further differentiating their content to optimize the strengths of each medium. Our goal is to meet or exceed the expectations of our current readers while making the paper more appealing to its prime prospects.

Changes will include: limiting the number of stories that jump from display pages to deeper inside the paper; limiting the length of some, though not all, news and feature stories; grouping stories in a more logical and coherent fashion; putting even more emphasis on analysis and on stories that make sense of the news while sharply limiting the number of commoditized news reports and stock quotes; and making more effective complementary use of the Online Journal.

In short, we want to further differentiate the Journal from competitors by providing not only scoops but also even more interpretative stories that put global business and economic news in context for readers. This, of course, will make the print and online Journals even more complimentary.

What won't change is our commitment to the finest business and financial journalism in the world. This year-even during tough conditions for our industry-we've shown our willingness to invest in our core franchise by launching Weekend Edition in September and the new compact Journals, closely integrated with the Online Journal in Europe and Asia in mid-October.

These successful projects have been hard work for all of us, but you've shown time and again what can be done when we work together with a shared purpose. The pace of change in the world keeps accelerating, and we must move even faster if we want to stay ahead of readers' needs. Twenty years ago we competed against Business Week, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Forbes, Fortune and a still-new USA Today. Today, consumers of business news have many more sources, from the web to cable television.

Competition doesn't get easier. To succeed in this environment we must constantly find new ways to stay ahead of the pack and to do so in every format that the market demands. The change that we begin today is another big step on that road. We appreciate your hard work and your support as we advance together.

Best regards, Karen Elliott House

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