I can't find it now, but just a few months ago I got into a discussion in our comments with someone who insisted that newspapers or paywalls were always going to be a better place for advertisers because they actually knew who their readers were and could verify and audit that information. I noted that the newspaper industry has a long history
of boosting circulation numbers through fraud
. In response, I was told that doesn't happen any more. That seemed laughable. Indeed, reports have now come out that the Wall Street Journal Europe was involved in a complicated scam to massively boost its circulation numbers
by giving companies cash to buy copies of the paper at greatly discounted rates. Even worse, it appears that some of the deals involved signed contracts with the WSJ, where they promised positive coverage of one of the organizations that would participate in this scheme:
The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channeling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation.
The bizarre scheme included a formal, written contract in which the Journal persuaded one company to co-operate by agreeing to publish articles that promoted its activities, a move which led some staff to accuse the paper's management of violating journalistic ethics and jeopardising its treasured reputation for editorial quality.
Coming on the heels of the voicemail hacking scandal, this is another black eye for Murdoch's News Corp, but it looks significantly worse, given the generally positive reputation around the Wall Street Journal, when it comes to reporting and editorial ethics.