The Wall Street Journal is arguably the most venerable newspaper in the United States. It has been at the forefront of the movement to provide continuous quality journalism and has changed little since its founding more than a century ago. It has only been within the last decade that they included color photographs in their daily edition.
The WSJ has also been slow to accept the idea of providing free content via the Internet. They continue to have one of the most restrictive paywall systems in the industry which prevents anyone from accessing any WSJ content without paying for it.
So, when I heard they were hiring former New York Times social media editor Liz Heron to handle their social media, I immediately began to wonder: “How is that going to work?”
Paywalls are not an evil thing. Newspapers are still struggling to find a way to survive in the digital age and pay walls help them protect their original content. It is not the perfect solution, and I think the WSJ takes it to the extreme, but I understand it. However, social media is the anti-paywall. It is designed around the idea that we share content freely. No strings attached. I don’t have to buy a subscription to someone’s Facebook page to “Like”, share or even view their status updates.
Heron has reportedly said she regards the move as a “challenge” but I consider that the understatement of the decade. Not only does she need to work within a very restrictive system, but also for a company which still does not seem to grasp the value of social media. Just because they hired a social media editor doesn’t mean they embrace social media. It just means they see something is going on and want to be a part of it. Which is very similar to the way they “embraced” the Internet and immediately installed a severely restrictive paywall system.
Unlike the regular web, however, the Social Web doesn’t react well to restrictions of any kind. In fact, users have reacted poorly to any attempts to abridge their right to share content freely. This leads me to believe they will not take kindly to efforts by the WSJ to restrict their ability to share that content via social media. Not that I think readers will launch a rebellion. They just won’t participate. And lack of participation is the exact opposite of what everyone wants from their social media network.
Liz Heron, who is leaving her position as social media editor for The New York Times to lead social media and engagement for The Wall Street Journal, will have to figure out a strategy that works with the Journal’s more restrictive pay wall. The Journal allows non-subscribers to view certain stories and cuts the rest off after a couple of paragraphs, although Heron pointed out that everything that the Journal tweets and posts to Facebook is available to anyone. The Times allows non-subscribers to circumvent its pay wall by viewing stories found via links on social media, regardless of who posted it. “I look at it as an interesting challenge,” she told me. “There’s a lot to be done with engaging that network of subscribers and getting them to not only talk to us at the Journal, but to talk to each other. Whether that will be social media or some other kind of engagement, that remains to be seen at this point.”