Avoiding Fallacies in Reporting: WSJ Example on Mashable

The Wall Street Journal

Do you subscribe to The Wall Street Journal?

When was the last time you picked up a paper newspaper? That question came to my mind recently when I ran into an article by Lauren Indvik on Mashable titled “5 Ways to Monetize the Future of News Media. The article tries to explain the 5 major ways the news industry is trying to make money in the online world. In one of the points, the article, whether consciously or unconsciously, uses a fallacy, or an illogical reason, as a basis for judging how The Wall Street Journal [WSJ] online model is performing today.

An illogical reason usually results from a misunderstood or a miscategorized idea that something happens for some specific reason that in reality is not true. Today we we will go through the main fallacy about The Wall Street Journal [WSJ] assumption in the specific Mashable article in question and see how such a mistake came to be. Realizing this specific mistake can help avoid the pitfall of trying to base your online business or website model on other website models, instead of coming up with a business model that helps your specific business or website.

Wall Street Journal Business Model Assumptions on Mashable

In one part, the article talks about the paid subscription model that WSJ has where it charges customers for access to many of its news articles. The article says the following:

More dangerously, other sites have avoided linking to the WSJ’s articles because it’s highly likely that their readers won’t be able to access those stories. In fact, a study published earlier this week showed that although the WSJ had more than double the number of print subscribers as The New York Times in 2009, it was not one of the most-linked-to news outlets on blogs, Twitter (Twitter) or YouTube (YouTube). Thus the company has lost, and continues to lose out on, both potential subscriber and page view-generated ad revenue.

The last highlighted sentence in that quote is a big assumption based on several fallacies. Here are a few reasons why you should realize this assumption and avoid similar kind of assumption on your blogs and writings:

  • The Wall Street Journal focuses efficiently on a specific paying-customer client market. It makes money through an increasing subscriber base. Therefore, logically, we cannot assume that WSJ is losing money by not focusing on other specific client markets like Twitter or Facebook. WSJ has chosen a specific focus as part of its business model, the same way Mashable has chosen the free-content-with-advertisements focused client base as part of its business model instead of a subscription-based content model.
  • WSJ does not need to depend on an incoming number of links because WSJ makes money mainly through paying customers. Thus, incoming links is of little use to WSJ. This fact is either misunderstood or ignored by Lauren in her article. In reality, it is companies like Mashable and TechCrunch that depend on incoming Twitter and Facebook links.
  • Lauren does not list any sources that suggest The Wall Street Journal is losing revenue because of not being linked to from Twitter, Facebook or YouTube due to its existing business model. Thus, the above quoted final judgment about WSJ business model is simply an assumption based on a personal preference of what businesses should be like.
  • The very fact that WSJ focuses on its own content and custom business model, instead of traditional online model of getting backlinks and advertising traffic, is what makes WSJ successful online compared to many other newspapers. The article incorrectly depicts this fact as a shortcoming, instead of an advantage.

Avoid fallacies when observing other business and website models

The article serves as a very important short guide for learning how different kinds of mainly offline businesses in the newspaper industry can make money in the online world. At the same time, however, the article falls victim to one of the biggest assumptions and pitfalls in any business: assuming that if one model works somewhere, it must be copied and made the standard everywhere else. Contrary to what the article says, The Wall Street Journal does not need to focus on getting incoming links from Twitter or Facebook, which is what Mashable does.

What is your opinion on this? Do you think the newspaper industry, or The Wall Street Journal, should focus on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube more? Do you think Lauren is correct in assuming that The Wall Street Journal is losing out on potential clients and should focus on getting more backlinks and attention from Twitter, FaceBook and YouTube?

Please share in the comments below. Thank you for reading.

About William

William lives in Oakley, California and is an avid tech enthusiast. When he's not writing about online social networking and businesses, he is busy reviewing how social media affects us all.

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