Mediaweek magazine puts together a “Digital Hot List” each year of the websites or companies they see as having the potential to wow the web world. Their list never seems to be much of a surprise, especially when you consider Google, Facebook and Twitter are sort of default entries, but there’s always one or two on it that raise an eyebrow.This year it’s the Wall Street Journal’s website,, in at No. 8. Yep! The website property of a traditional media outlet is on Mediaweek’s Digital Hot List. And no, it’s not a joke.

To further perplex the digerati, The Journal is one of the few papers that did not take down its pay-to-play subscription model a few years back. That’s right. You have to pay to see much (not all, but still) of the content, a policy considered blasphemous by many in the social media set.

The online audience at has spiked by as much as 44 percent in recent months according to ComScore, it is now the largest newspaper in the U.S. and both the print and online versions are profitable. Mediaweek calls their model the, “envy of the industry.”

“They made a decision a long time ago that most didn’t,” Mike Shields, Mediaweek’s senior editor for digital media told me yesterday. “The Journal is not free. They never wavered or changed that. That is as key to the success as the content they deliver. That precedent is enviable and hard for someone to copy, particularly if you’ve been giving away your content for 10 years.”

Called crazy in 2005, The Journal is on a hot list in 2009. And, unfortunately, their success is leading many newspapers to consider charging for their content. I say unfortunately because most of them will do so at their own peril. For The Wall Street Journal has two things going for it the others don’t; it’s a niche publication and much of its content is exclusive. I’ve heard also a difference is that in the world of finance, if you don’t read the wsj you’re dead. And one last thing, as cynical as this sounds, normally the reader’s business will pay for the subscription