Posted September 20, 2011 7:53 am by with 4 comments

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It looks like we have hit a point where the balance of power in publishing is truly shifting OR there is a huge over reaction to social media’s influence. Why do I say this? Because today the Wall Street Journal is rolling out the WSJ Social which is a made for Facebook version of the paper that at one point in time at least was most concerned about reaching business power brokers rather than the masses.

Take a look at the screenshot that was published over at Forbes

Key lime pie? Sunscreen labeling? Well, at least there is some business overtone to that on. Here’s how the Journal describes this move to creating a whole new presentation for the Facebook crowd.

“The fundamental idea of it is super simple,” says Alisa Bowen, general manager of the WSJ Digital Network. “It’s about making [WSJ content] available where people are.”

My question is, “What people?”. Many who read the Wall Street Journal for business news are not Facebook users. In fact, they shun any public show of anything for a variety of reasons. Most of them are that they simply don’t want to be known. Being a captain of industry often involves a larger measure of stealth to keep prying eyes from seeing too much and, let’s face it, to keep the leeches away.

The Forbes article continued with this explanation of just how the WSJ Social will work

But it’s also about reimagining newspaper reading as an inherently social experience. Users choose whose streams they want to follow — the official ones produced by the paper’s, and each other’s — and that determines what stories they see. The most-followed users can compare their rankings on a leaderboard and earn prizes — possibly including their own WSJ-style stipple portraits. “It’s really about the users being elevated to editors,” says Maya Baratz, the Journal’s head of new products.

Look I get why they are doing this. The WSJ like any other publisher wants to get as many readers as they can in any way that they can. But once you start watering down a product in a way that doesn’t look like the product anymore you are treading on dangerous ground. Does it sound right that the WSJ is running popularity leaderboards and having prize giveaways? Not to me it doesn’t. This kind of “presentation” of the WSJ seems like a dumbing down of the content to create a hybrid between a USA Today or People Magazine like approach and the business world. It just seems odd.

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I realize that I am going old school on this one but that’s fine. I can choose what I want to read and how I want to read it just like anyone else can. What I have concerns about is that by letting everyone else be their own editors that the content will quickly slide to the lowest common denominator. People will just become opinion peddlers and those opinions won’t even be their own. They won’t need to take the time to form their own opinions but rather they will be pimping out others and doing it to win a popularity contest. That’s not advancing thought that’s promoting laziness.

How many truly successful people ever tried to win popularity contests? Not many. They have done things that are often against the flow of popular opinion because, let’s face it, in most cases popular opinion is not all the bright or imaginative. Where the Wall Street Journal once stood in the publishing world is now becoming just like everyone else which, in the end, will only serve to hurt it.

What’s your take?

  • Gamification is the world commonly thrown around for this kind of marketing. They are presumably attempting to turn reading the WSJ into a video game. The line is that it increases engagement, turns readers into advocates and offers extended reader information to the business. It seems the reader info is something they really went after. I don’t think most of the WSJ’s readership got where they are by playing Nintendo or Farmville.

    WSJ’s content isn’t something that wins most people many popularity contests either.

    I’m not worried about people sharing links like this. It means that now they provide sources for their vapid talking points instead of acting like it was an original thought.

  • Cynthia Boris

    I fear for the future of journalism. To the WSJ I say, just because all your friends are doing it, doesn’t mean you have to. I thought you were bigger than that.

  • I agree. The WSJ should keep its self in the higher ranks of news and info.
    Facebook is a tool for the masses.

  • Sushil Kambampati

    I’m a little confused. Do you still have to subscribe (and pay) to the WSJ online in order to read articles? If so then this isn’t really for the “masses”, is it?

    As for the idea that people “won’t need to take the time to form their own opinions,” that’s not new at all. Hence the popular opinion column in newspapers and the existence of Fox News. Perhaps I’m not understanding how this is different.