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Wall Street Journal to start publishing weekend edition

NEW YORK — For legions of business executives, The Wall Street Journal is essential reading first thing every weekday morning. But will they read it on Saturdays?

Senior executives at the Journal's publisher, Dow Jones & Co., are betting they will.

Starting Sept. 17, The Wall Street Journal will start publishing a "Weekend Edition" on Saturdays with business news and expanded coverage of personal finance, leisure activities and the arts. The Journal had published on Saturdays in the past but stopped in 1953, a year after the New York Stock Exchange stopped trading stocks on Saturday.

For the Journal, the Saturday edition represents another opportunity to pull in more consumer advertising and decrease its dependence on financial and technology advertising, which have been in a deep and prolonged slump. The Journal's overall ad volume has declined every year since 2001 and is down 6.3 percent in the year to date through July.

A new section on Saturdays called "Pursuits" will feature stories on sports, books, food and the arts. Like the paper's other expansions into lifestyle stories, the new section is aimed at attracting new ad dollars from companies like automakers, hotels and luxury goods retailers.

It's the latest expansion for the nation's leading business newspaper following the introduction in 1998 of an entertainment and leisure section on Fridays called Weekend Journal and a consumer-focused news section added in 2002 called Personal Journal.

Those additions were well received by readers and advertisers, as was a design overhaul in 2002 that added more color to the paper. However, some are skeptical that the Journal's audience of busy professionals will spend as much time with the paper on Saturdays as they do during the working week.

For now, the Journal won't charge subscribers extra for the Saturday edition. Karen Elliot House, the Journal's publisher, said Weekend Edition was already meeting internal goals for becoming profitable. However, she declined to predict when that would happen, other than to say: "not that long."

The company says it has hired about 150 new staff to work on the edition, but the head of Dow Jones' largest union wonders if that will be enough.

Virgil Hollender, president of the Independent Association of Publishers' Employees, said the union shares the company's hope that the project is "wildly successful." But he added: "We just hope it's not trying to get more work out of already overworked people."

Paul Steiger, the Journal's editor, said he's confident that the paper will have enough staff.

Nonetheless, the paper suffered a blow a few weeks ago when a key architect of the Saturday edition, deputy managing editor Joanne Lipman, said she was leaving to start up a new business magazine at Conde Nast Publications, publisher of the New Yorker, Gourmet and Vanity Fair. Lipman was replaced by her deputy, veteran Journal editor Edward Felsenthal.

Steiger said the launch would be unaffected by Lipman's departure.

"We've got a full team in place and people know what to do," Steiger said. "I'm absolutely confident that there won't even be a hiccup."

Few doubt that the Journal will put out a quality newspaper on Saturdays, but some advertisers remain uncertain about how much demand there will be for it.

"I am on the fence, but I'm leaning toward being cautiously optimistic," said Brenda White, director of print advertising at Starcom USA, an ad-buying firm in Chicago. "My big question is, are people going to read it? Saturday is a different mindset."

House says that weekend mindset is exactly what the newspaper is hoping to capitalize on. House says the Saturday Journal will offer readers compelling news as well as lifestyle stories in a more "contemplative environment" at home on the weekend.

"There's a news reason to pick up the paper," House said. "It's not just a big pile of stuff like your Sunday paper that lands in some people's driveways on Saturday and most of it's been produced through the week."

Industry analysts are generally positive about the Journal's latest move to go after new revenues.

"I think it's a logical step and I think it's necessary," says John Morton, a longtime newspaper analyst in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Making it work, however, is another matter.

"I admire them for coming up with the idea," says Lauren Rich Fine, an analyst with Merrill Lynch. "But I have an appropriate level of skepticism that there will be a solid financial return."

For the Journal's reporters and editors, publishing on Saturdays will remove a longtime frustration of having to wait until Monday to weigh in on big stories that happen on Friday.

"I've felt this for years," Steiger said. "We don't want to hand over our readers to the tender mercies of our competitors when the news is fresh."