The difficulties of moving a newspaper online

By Felix Salmon
May 21, 2009

The bloggiest, and possibly the most-read, part of the WSJ’s “Heard on the Street” page is its short-take “Overheard” section. (People are much more likely to read short things than long things, in general.) Today, it has some juicy gossip about ongoing negotiations between Microsoft and Yahoo — Microsoft still wants Yahoo’s search engine (despite reportedly planning to unveil its own new search engine next week), but “the Yahoos are steamed that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer keeps returning to areas they thought the two camps had already agreed on”.

Take all that as you will — but if you’re a business or technology blogger, don’t link to it, because you can’t link to it. It’s just sitting there in the middle of a dynamically-updated page, and as of tomorrow it’ll be gone forever: as far as I can tell, the “Overheard” archives simply don’t exist.

Why not? I can think of three possible reasons, ranging from cock-up to conspiracy:

  1. “Overheard” was designed primarily as a print product, the web presence was an afterthought, in the rush to launch no one got around to building an Overheard archive or constructing permalinks for it, and since then the webby people have moved on to other things.
  2. “Overheard” is short, and the WSJ still has a mindset that importance is proportional to length; therefore, short items are simply not important enough to archive.
  3. “Overheard” is the closest thing to a gossip column that the WSJ has, and the editors don’t want gossip sullying their venerable archives.

I suspect that the real reasons are more cock-up than conspiracy, but that’s really no excuse. Journalists care about where and how their work is presented on the paper; they tend not to care nearly as much about where and how it’s presented online, where they have an order of magnitude more readers. That’s going to have to change, but it’ll be a very slow process.

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