It was good while it lasted.
For years, one of the best/worst kept secrets in media circles was a login that unlocked the Wall Street Journal's formidable paywall. Username: media. Password: media.
The media-media combo served many purposes. For those on entry-level media salaries, or no salaries at all, it opened the doors to the magical world of the Journal, which currently charges about $200 for a yearly digital subscription. For subscribers, it was a quick, easy, mobile-friendly login to use when the site's wonky paywall system failed to remember you.
For an industry filled with insatiable loudmouths and gossips, media-media was kept impressively quiet, shared among reporters, but not so widely that it became public knowledge. Reporters outside of the Journal’s Midtown headquarters were so tight-lipped that many WSJ reporters had no idea that media-media even existed.
But the party is over. Media-media is dead, as reporters across the industry recently noticed.
Like the best urban myths, the origins of media-media have been lost in the gray fog of time. But here's what we do know: The email address and subscriber name associated with the account listed two current and former NBC Universal employees, and it was used by NBC's communications department to access the Journal at least five years ago, according to a person familiar with the matter.
At some point, media-media escaped the confines of NBC and made it into the wild, where it spread like the best, most welcome kind of invasive species.
A Journal spokesperson declined to comment. Executives at its parent company News Corp endorse paywalls with an almost ideological fervor, and the strategy has paid off nicely for their flagship newspaper. The Journal has charged for access to its site since the earliest days of online news — and long before similarly successful paywalls at the New York Times and Washington Post.
Free access to such a tightly guarded site was a rare blessing, and one whose details were kept surprisingly quiet by the legions of media-media users. Now that it's gone, its users — from outlets including Fusion, The Intercept, The Daily Beast and Marketplace — are breaking the unspoken code of silence.
“I’ve always thought it was the biggest thing that everyone knew but dared not discuss," one reporter said. "You can’t upset the paywall gods."
UPDATE: After publication, tributes to the dead login poured in on social media.
Matthew Zeitlin is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Zeitlin reports on Wall Street and big banks.
Contact Matthew Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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