Read The Wall Street Journal For Free

Reading Google News today, I noticed a Wall Street Journal article about the Microsoft-Yahoo deal listed. I’d just seen that article earlier on Techmeme, when on my work computer, where I read it after having to log-in to the WSJ using my paid subscription. So imagine my surprise when going back to it on a completely different computer that I discovered I have free access, through Google News.

This intrigued me. Google has a “first click free” program hat lets subscription-based publications allow people at Google News to flow freely into their news sites without being bugged for registration, free or otherwise. I wasn’t aware of the Wall Street Journal having taken part. That’s especially so after so much recent news about Digg “freeing” the Wall Street Journal content or the off-again, on-again question if the Wall Street Journal would drop its paid wall.

Well, end the debate. As far as I can tell, there is no paid wall. And as a paid subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, I then wonder what I’m paying for.

Let me demonstrate some examples, including how it feels like the Wall Street Journal tries to make it seem like content is somehow selectively free, when it is not.

WSJ On Google News

The image above shows the story I read today, listed on the Google News home page. Clicking on it brings me to the full-text:

WSJ On Google News

See all those arrows? These are all places where the WSJ is telling me there’s free content, as well as the need to pay for access to “All” online content. And it’s true — much of this does seem to be free. I tested going to some of these pages directly in a separate browser, one that wouldn’t have been cookied in any way, and I was able to get in.

So what’s the problem? The word “Other” in “Other Free Content From The Wall Street Journal.” That suggests that the original article I was reading was also free. OK, it was, since I came from Google News. But it was NOT if I’d come to the Wall Street Journal directly.

Consider this:

WSJ On Google News

That’s the current home page of the Wall Street Journal. Arrows, again. The first one points to a box where the Wall Street Journal is explicitly telling you that the stories below the box are “Subscriber Content.” And look — there’s that Yahoo article that I just read for free from Google News, that for a Google News visitor is positioned (in my view) as if it is part of the (assumedly) small amount of free content out there.

Try to go to those articles directly from the home page, and this is what you get:

WSJ On Google News

As an aside, all too often I’ve ended up on “Free Preview” boxes like this only to find that the article is so short that practically all of it is already showing, wasting my time when I actually log in. Here’s a thought. If the Wall Street Journal can’t drop its paid wall, at least drop it for stories where you’re already previewing 80 to 90 percent of the content.

Interestingly, the first article listed in the Subscriber Content area is this:

Democrats Focus on Two States

Clicking on that allows you to read the entire thing. Despite being labeled Subscriber Content on the home page, it’s full text — making me as a paid subscriber wonder what I’m paying for.

Enough of complaining. How do you get to read articles on the site for free that might not be listed in Google News? Search for them.

For example, here’s another front page article:

Capital Charges Expected Against Six Alleged Leaders of 9/11 Conspiracy

If you try to read that without an account, you get only a short preview. So do this. Copy the text of the headline and search for it on Google News:

WSJ On Google News

Click from there, and the article is yours to read in full. I’ve tested this on a few other stories, and I’m pretty sure it will hold up.

After poking around on my own, I decided to search and find out if this was a new thing or not. Back last July, I came across this Digital Inspiration article talking about a way to modify a Firefox extension to do this. A key part seems to be adding this to the end of any WSJ URL:


I’d already tried this without using the extension but found it wasn’t working.

Here’s another story you can read for free from Google News:

Six Guantanamo Detainees Expected to Face Trial for Involvement in Sept. 11 Attacks

The URL, when your arrive, looks like this:

You can see that extended part that tags the URL has being generated from Google News. But here’s the actual URL you click on at Google News itself:

I’ve tried cutting that URL down in various ways, to see if there’s a particular part that’s necessary to generate the full text. So far, I’ve had no luck. That makes me think that the Wall Street Journal is detecting in some other way if the request is coming off the Google site directly.

Hopefully, someone will poke at it further and make something like the New York Times Link Generator. That service takes any New York Times article URL and makes it accessible without registration. The New York Times is now free, of course, but some people find the registration a pain.

Going back to last July, Google Operating System had an article about the Congoo site and toolbar that makes WSJ and other content free. I haven’t played with that today, but it might be worth checking out.

For more on the Wall Street Journal opening up — or not — check out these posts:

By the way, I’m not against paid registration sites. I ran one for years. Sure, information wants to be free, but writers like to be paid. Paid registration is an excellent way for a web site to protect itself from an ad downturn. Why I don’t like is paying for something for no good reason. If the Wall Street Journal want to charge for its content, then I as a subscriber should be getting that exclusively. If it wants the benefit of Google traffic, then drop the paid wall.


  1. TRS-80 says is probably checking the referer (sic) header, which sent by the browser and contains the previous site visited. So in this case, wsj is checking it to ensure that you clicked on the link from, not just entered it manually (which gives a blank referer).

  2. asdffdsa1 says

    Use Firefox RefControl extension,
    to always give
    a referer of
    Works :-)

  3. spira says

    This is not particularly unusual. The New York Times was doing this with their recent archives before they went free – if you tried to access an article from within the Times, you had to pay for it, but you could always search for it in Google and access it for free. The logic, obviously, is that people accessing the article from a search engine wouldn’t be buying a subscription anyway, so you might as well let them see the article for free and look at the ads. As far as what you are paying for, it would be awfully annoying to read the the whole WSJ this way.
    And I suspect that this is exactly the route that Murdoch intends to take the Journal – much of the content will be available free on an article-by-article basis, but it will be done such a haphazard fashion that corporations will still continue to pay for their employees’ WSJ subscriptions

  4. says

    Hey Danny,

    I wrote a little piece about this too (linked via my name) when First Click Free was announced (using slightly less polite language) and how First Click Free meant really that it’s all clicks free so long as you can type site: into google. And for the news, just add the ‘past 24 hours’ modifier or of course go to GOogle news.

    You might find it an interesting read, though you likely know most of it.


  5. says

    I’ve been doing this for some time — I think I may have learned the trick on Reddit, where people sometimes use it as a means of sharing paid WSJ stories.

    WSJ is trying to have it both ways. They want to keep their search referrals while charging a subscription fee. They need to make up their minds and stop being so damn schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is what got them and the rest of the old hat media industry into this mess.

  6. JB says

    They are using a mixed strategy and trying to attract new subscribers by giving away a taste. If you truly don’t like it, then unsubscribe.

  7. Nancy says

    thank you SO much for writing about this! I was able to fully view a wsj article on Wednesday for my class, but when I went to it on Thursday it said that a paid subscription was necessary. I’ve been trying to find this article in different formats, but haven’t been able to until I read this, you saved my paper and taught me something new =) Thanks again!

  8. Mr. Smarty Pants :D says

    Hey so I have been playing around and found a method that still works…

    1. Find a WSJ page with a little lock key [requiring a subscription to read the whole art article].

    2. Click on that link!

    3. Look at the URL. You should see something like this tact on to the end -> ?mod=WSJ_World_LEFTSecondNews

    4. Delete everything after the ? so the the url would go from this

    to this

    5. Make sure you have this add on

    6. Once you have deleted everything after the ? in the URL and you have this plug in installed, simply type “” without the quotes and hit spoof.

    The full article should be displayed!!! Current to April 2010

  9. Jack Tucker says

    I used to use this all the time, but I haven’t recently. I just tried again now, though, and it’s not working. Has the WSJ closed the Google referrer loophole? I’ve just performed a quick scan of blogs but don’t see anyone else talking about this yet. Anyone else? Anyone else have another approach to this? WSJ doesn’t allow Twitter or other social entries past its paywall the way the NYT does, correct?