The Change Agent’s Change Agent: Barney Kilgore

“The easiest thing in the world for a reader to do is to stop reading.” -Barney Kilgore
Barney Kilgore was a newspaperman from Indiana who took The Wall Street Journal to heights unimagined before his arrival at the paper in 1941. For instance, when Kilgore joined the WSJ the circulation was a paltry 33,000. Under his direction, circulation rose to over one million by the early 1960s.
With “creative destruction is blowing hard through the news industry,” former WSJ publisher Gordon Crovitz recalls Kilgore and points to a new book about the man, Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism by Richard J. Tofel.

Kilgore observed that then new media such as radio meant market news was available in real time. Some cities had a dozen newspapers that had gained the Journal’s once-valuable ability to report share prices.
The Journal had to change. Technology increasingly meant readers would know the basic facts of news as it happened. He announced, “It doesn’t have to have happened yesterday to be news,” and said that people were more interested in what would happen tomorrow. He crafted the front page “What’s News — ” column to summarize what had happened, but focused on explaining what the news meant.
On the morning after Pearl Harbor, other newspapers recounted the facts already known to all the day before through radio. The Journal’s page-one story instead began, “War with Japan means industrial revolution in the United States.” It outlined the implications for the economy, industry and commodity and financial markets.

So, what’s happening tomorrow in media, marketing and advertising? Easy. Innovative people will find a way to make online advertising worth its weight in silicon. People will think of social media as a nightmare endured and the word blog will have no meaning. News and entertainment will also become highly personal, totally customizable and fully portable products.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.