Today Dow Jones released a routine “snooze” of a press release on executive changes. A roster of names I had never heard before  were appointed to key positions reporting to CEO Lex Fenwick . Toward the bottom of the list there was a name familiar to the legal community.

“Dan Hayter has been named head of institutional sales, Americas, for Dow Jones, responsible for leading enterprise sales and new business opportunities for corporate and financial markets products, including Factiva.”. Emphasis added. Less than a month ago, Dan was spearheading Bloomberg Law enterprise sales to large law firms around the US. What makes this even more intriguing is that Lex Fenwick is a former Bloomberg CEO.

Key quotes from the Press Release: (emphasis added below is my own)

Lex Fenwick: “Dow Jones has served as a trusted resource with world-class assets for more than a century,” “The dynamism and hunger of our employees around the world to win bode very well for our future. Together with ambitious investment and renewed focus, we look forward to introducing unique new products in the very near future.”

Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, “Our investment plans for The Wall Street Journal newspaper will become clearer in coming days, and we will certainly be expanding our news network globally, on other platforms and in other languages

Alisa Bowen, currently general manager of The Wall Street Journal Digital Network (WSJDN), has been promoted to head of product for Dow Jones. In this role, she will oversee the company’s continued innovation with an integrated product group comprising both consumer and enterprise businesses. “We have a unique opportunity to expand our reach into new markets, new products and over new platforms.”

A little history Dow Jones vs Bloomberg

Mike Bloomberg whooped the tail of Dow Jones’ when he leapfrogged over the Telerate “ticker” product and introduced the Bloomberg financial terminal. “The terminal” was an interactive tool that made Wall Street traders smarter by giving them not only data and but a tool for analyzing f the data.

A Little History: WSJ and Factiva in the Legal Market

Back in the day of 300 baud modems and acoustic couplers, there were no full text digital news products. The New York Times has it’s Infobank, which included abstracts but no full stories. Dow Jones released a remarkable news product Dow Jones Interactive which made heroes of librarians who could search “full text” news stories and mine for historical stock quotes using arcane commands that read like Fortran code.  DJIS was replaced in 1999 by Factiva a joint venture between Dow Jones and Reuters.

Factiva was, and probably still is a wonderfully sophisticated  research platform. Its complex taxonomy allowed highly precise and sophisticated searching and alerting. For many years law librarians had the best of both worlds they could have a Factiva account for their advanced search needs and the Wall Street Journal in full text was available directly to lawyers through Westlaw. Westlaw held an exclusive contract for WSJ and Factiva until 2005 when Factiva entered into an exclusive deal with Lexis. This is the reason I can’t comment on Factiva in 2012… I have been barred, the entire community of law librarians, the entire legal profession… have all been barred from accessing the Factiva platform since 2005.

I attended a launch event in which Clare Hart, President and CEO of Factiva and several Lexis executives assured the law library community that all of the Factiva functionality would be available on Lexis. The content was all there – the functionality was not.

Unprecedented Restrictions and Impaired Research

The Lexis – Factiva deal had a much more draconian impact on law firm research than the prior Westlaw exclusive. Not only was the Wall Street Journal and Factiva content pulled from Westlaw, but all other avenues of access to Factiva were also cut off. Law firms were barred from getting everything from an enterprise contract for the Wall Street Journal Online to a handful of Factiva accounts for the research staff.  If you are not a Lexis subscriber there is no easy way to conduct archival news research in the Wall Street Journal. Pieces of the WSJ and Factiva  archive must be searched on 3 different platforms, but if you are a lawyer or a law firm employee you are not a”permitted user” for any of these products. While all the world evolves toward efficiency – Factiva has devolved into fragments. Did Factiva lose interest in the product because it was so heavily subsidized by the Lexis deal?

The fact is that “Factiva on Lexis” never provided an adequate substitute for native Factiva. Librarians are the researchers of last resort in a law firm. They get the nasty complex requests which have driven the average lawyer to despair. Librarians are not charged with getting “something” on a topic. they have to get an exact thing. Sometimes the deep faceted geographic and corporate taxonomies uncover precise results that can not easily be surfaced from a news dump. Factiva taxonomies uncover relationships not just keywords.

Just Plain Wrong. I just think there is something wrong with any deal that restricts any profession or group of people from making their own choices about what tools and resources they can access. It seems especially pernicious that access to news, the very centerpiece of the First Amendment can be denied to lawyers– the professionals who are responsible for the effective administration of justice, and protection of First Amendment rights!

The Next Chapter Should Be Interesting

Today’s press release includes numerous references to “driving new products and new platforms to enterprise clients.” Will CEO Lex Fenwick, steer Dow Jones toward a more Bloomberg-like model and sell their proprietary content and platforms directly to law firms. Will they let Lexis. Westlaw and Bloomberg engage in a bidding war to gain an exclusvive contract or will they take a new direction and sell content to all three vendors?

Let’s hope that the executives at Dow Jones renew their interest in serving the legal community directly. If they want to provide their content through Lexis,ThomsonReuters or Bloomberg, fine! But let us have an end to the type of “restrictive covenant” that has essentially deprived the legal profession of unfettered access to news content on the platform of their choice.

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