NEW YORK — Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, has named Richard Zannino as CEO. He becomes the first nonjournalist to lead the company in a half-century.
Zannino, 47, who was chief operating officer, replaces the embattled Peter Kann, who will remain chairman of the company until its annual meeting in 2007, the year he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65.
With his appointment, Zannino bypasses Karen Elliott House, Kann’s wife and publisher of the Wall Street Journal. She agreed to retire after 32 years at the paper.
Kann and House formed the management duo at the top of Dow Jones and its biggest publication during a period of enormous growth amid the dot-com boom and then a prolonged slump as tech and corporate advertising evaporated in the years since.
Kann elevated House to Journal publisher, traditionally a stepping stone to the top job, in 2002.
Kann, who became CEO in 1991, founded the Wall Street Journal Online edition in 1996. It has become the largest paid news site on the Web with 764,000 subscribers.
But he took his biggest gamble in September, when he launched a Saturday edition of the Journal in an attempt to broaden the paper’s ad base to retail and consumer products.
That edition had to overcome distribution hurdles for the sizable percentage of Wall Street Journal subscribers who get the paper at work. Former deputy managing editor Joanne Lipman, who created the Weekend Journal, ankled in August for a startup business mag at Conde Nast.
As the stock has languished, rumors have persisted that the controlling Bancroft family is looking to sell the company.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Bloomberg and Warren Buffett, who sits on the board of the Washington Post Co., are most often mentioned as possible buyers.
Wall Street applauded the move, and improved earnings guidance issued Tuesday sent shares up 10.3% to close at $39.14.
Both Kann and House have had distinguished careers as journalists. Kann was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his coverage of the India-Pakistan war; House won a Pulitzer in 1984 for a series on the involvement of Jordan’s King Hussein in President Reagan’s Middle East peace plan.
Appointment of Zannino settles succession at the company but raises concerns among the journalist rank-and-file who trusted that as former reporters, Kann and House would not sacrifice journalistic quality to improve short-term financial results.
Zannino, who came to Dow Jones from Liz Claiborne, sought to allay those concerns.
“Although I’m not a journalist, I strongly believe that, for Dow Jones, journalistic excellence and business performance are mutually reinforcing — and I am deeply committed to both,” he said.
But the shakeup at the top will have a profound effect on the editorial side. Editor-in-chief Paul E. Steiger has said he plans to retire soon; Zannino will have a hand in picking his successor.
Presumably Zannino will have some say over the Journal’s editorial page, which took a hard turn to the right under editor Paul Gigot.