Media: Still grasping for a clue

We can all debate the wisdom of the Wall Street Journal maintaining a pay wall (or at least part of one — see my recent post), and even the wisdom of newspapers and media sites having registration walls. But surely we’ve gotten beyond the point where anyone would argue that publications should try to control where and how you link to them, right? Wrong. According to a post by Don McAskill, CEO of image-sharing site SmugMug, BusinessWeek specifically asked him not to link directly to a recent article they wrote about his company.

When I first read that, I confess that my jaw dropped open in amazement. Did I go through a time warp of some kind that put me back in the mid-1990s? No. But reading through BusinessWeek’s bizarre and long-winded “user agreement” is like going back a decade or more, to a time when traditional media — and companies of all kinds — thought they could control how users accessed or made use of the material on their websites, right down to preventing them from linking to certain things.

In fact, if you read through the part of the policy that covers “deep-linking,” which is made to sound like something heinous and clearly illegal, it also forbids “bots” from going through the site, which would seem to cover what Google and pretty much every other search engine on earth does. That’s smart. Don’t just try to block people from linking to your articles — try to prevent them from ever being found at all! Brilliant. (The BusinessWeek article is here, in case you want to read it).

Don also writes about how a story the L.A. Times wrote about SmugMug isn’t available easily either, because of the site’s registration wall. I know I’ve been stopped short before by the Times wall (check the comment at that link — the registration wall pops up after a certain number of visits), and each time I go away and never read the article that has been linked to. I know I could just use BugMeNot, but I just can’t be bothered, and so the story goes unread. How is that doing anyone any good? That’s pretty dumb — but BusinessWeek takes the cake.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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