* MarketWatch stays free despite trend toward paid news
* Site seeks higher profile amid finance news competition
By Robert MacMillan
NEW YORK, May 11 (Reuters) - The one thing investors do not lack in the midst of plunging portfolio values and sliding stock prices is business news.
Competition is fierce, whether it is Bloomberg LP and Thomson Reuters Corp (TRI.TO) TRIL.L selling expensive terminals to institutional clients in suits, or free news on CNNMoney or Yahoo Finance for investors at home in sweatpants.
MarketWatch.com, the financial news website that Dow Jones bought four years ago, is trying to chart a middle course.
It will launch a redesigned site on Tuesday aimed at bringing in sophisticated professionals while keeping its news free, even as parent company News Corp (NWSA.O) explores ways to get people to pay for its journalism online.
The site will feature new layout, as well as more content, stock quotes on demand, customized data and charts. It will offer breaking news, analysis and market data in automatic updates, similar to news wires such as Bloomberg and Reuters.
It also plans to refine its focus on markets coverage, increase its technology story coverage, step up its presence overseas in places such as Japan, Israel and Canada and emphasize commentary — a growing trend among news outlets trying to branch out beyond offering “commodity” daily news.
The move is an attempt to bring in a wider class of advertisers, going beyond the usual financial services firms to include technology and luxury goods makers.
It is also designed to elevate MarketWatch’s profile to that of its much larger sister news outlets, Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.
“I really wanted to highlight the fact that we are creating our own news,” said David Callaway, MarketWatch’s editor.
Dow Jones offers readers no shortage of business news. Its newswires unit provides breaking stories and market updates 24 hours a day, and the Journal’s daily print edition and website offers breaking news and analysis. Its Barron’s newspaper dives deep into stock analysis once a week.
Between Newswires, the Journal and MarketWatch, readers sometimes can get three versions of the same story in the course of a day.
That has led some media observers to question why Dow Jones spent $519 million to buy MarketWatch in 2005, aside from the advertising revenue that helps the company’s bottom line.
Callaway acknowledged that duplication exists, but said different readers visit each site, making it essential for Dow Jones to provide complete business news coverage.
“MarketWatch is the only place on the web that has the breadth and depth of institutional markets coverage, but for a retail audience,” he said. “It is a separate audience, which is why it requires a separate news service.”
MarketWatch also sees the redesign as a way to get back to its roots as a scrappy business news service with a “laser focus” on markets, said Gordon McLeod, president of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network.
“We’re totally, maniacally focused on what’s moving markets,” he said. That includes attracting “day traders... people who can’t afford a Bloomberg terminal.”
Over the years, McLeod said, MarketWatch experimented with stories aimed at a wide audience of investors, including regular folks at home. That led, he said, to MarketWatch getting “a bit of a personal finance peg, which is not true.”
MarketWatch, he said, delivers 300 to 500 stories, headlines and market briefs now, all aimed at as wide an audience of business news consumers as possible.
The question is how long it will be able to deliver the news for free.
Newspapers and other news outlets are facing unprecedented challenges as advertising revenue declines, and more of them are being forced to find ways to get people to pay for their information on the Internet, a place where people traditionally read for free.
“It’s not our assertion that there’s no place for free,” McLeod said. (Reporting by Robert MacMillan; Editing by Anshuman Daga)