OFF THE GRID

The Wall Street Journal Is Really, Really Mad at Us

Apr 6, 09 | 9:33 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Robert Thomson, Murdoch’s editor of the Wall Street Journal, thinks Newser is a tapeworm. Newser and other news aggregators are “parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the Internet," he told The Australian newspaper. This is doubly amusing to me because when I was writing my biography of Murdoch, I'd refer to Thomson, a smirking, sallow-faced Aussie with a fetishistic devotion to both Rupert Murdoch and skinny ties, as “the tapeworm.”

What Thomson means, of course, is that Newser and its fellow Internet news aggregators are eating the Journal’s lunch. And this is certainly true. Thomson is now part of the new old media backlash, which is suddenly, a day late and a dollar short, saying content ought to be paid for.

He’s even issuing strange, apocalyptic sorts of threats: “There is a collective consciousness among content creators that they are bearing the costs and that others are reaping some of the revenues—inevitably that profound contradiction will be a catalyst for action and the moment is nigh.”

It would, of course, have been smart if Thomson, along with his patron, Murdoch, had realized that the Journal and all other newspapers had technological competitors, tapeworms or otherwise, that would profoundly undermine the traditional news business before buying the WSJ. That deal cost Murdoch $5.6 billion in cash and another $30 billion in share price value, making it the most expensive newspaper in history and the biggest blunder of Murdoch’s career.

So Thomson is full of sour grapes. He clawed his way up to the top of the financial news pyramid, only to find it ready to turn to dust.


(AP Image)

Indeed, the point of his rant against the aggregators is pure helpless, and hapless, fury. The world has changed and he, like so many people on Wall Street, made a bad bet—and he can’t do anything about it.

Still, monopolists, when they lose their monopoly, always go through a period of believing there’s a way to get it back. He envisions newspapers, all together, sitting down at a big table and making certain decisions about how they will regard aggregators. This has the timbre and quality and ridiculousness of the way people in the music business used to talk.

Here’s the long and short of it: There is not less news, there is more news; the value of information is going down because technology has made it so much more plentiful; the Wall Street Journal no longer has a monopoly on data, access, diligence, research, understanding, consistency, or reliability. The WSJ and the New York Times and every other newspaper can fold and we here at Newser will still be sorting through vast quantities of news, opinion, and analysis. The mountain of information only gets bigger.

And if newspapers follow the Journal model and wall off their content with subscription fees, we’ll do what we do now with the WSJ site. We'll buy a subscription and then we'll summarize whatever they’re charging for, bringing their way-too-long and gassy prose down to Internet size—so you can, in other words, read less, and know more—and we'll give it to you for free.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com

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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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