The New York Times is charging. The world’s greatest newspaper (regardless of how The Chicago Tribune bills itself as) has gone behind a paywall. NYTimes.com has always been my go-to source for almost any story bigger than New Hampshire. It is the paper of record, as far as I am concerned. It’s homepage is bookmarked on every browser and every computer I use, and I’ve been going there for years.
And to think all that time I’ve been paying nothing.
I know, journalism is everywhere. We’ve come to think of it like water—it just comes out of the tap. For free. We seldom think of the infrastructure that makes it possible, of the value it contains.
Until someone starts bottling it.
My job and my future rest on the Times experiment working. Journalism jobs are hard to come by, and they aren’t paying quite what they used to. People can advertise online for less than they can in print, and many times the results are the same if not better. Papers (like mine in particular—a free daily) count on advertisers to fund reporting far more than the subscription price. As ad sales have dropped so has investment in journalism, which hurts readership, which further hampers ad sales.
And all I want to do is get out there and find out the facts…
The Times is trying to capture some of that online revenue that is otherwise evaporating. Who can blame them? They can’t give away something for nothing.
Several weeks ago New Hampshire Public Radio was holding their pledge drive, and I was reexamining my spending. I had subscribed to Netflix a few months before. I was paying $8 a month for access to streaming movies I generally didn’t care about. That’s $100 a year.
If access to crappy movies is worth $100 a year, what is excellent journalism worth?
I donated $150 to NHPR. I figure I’ll get some of it back in the end anyway…
The Times is charging between $15 and $35 a month for access to their website, depending on how you access it. That’s between $180 and $420 a year. Is The Times worth that? I would say it is, or at least that it’s worth $180 a year. I wouldn’t be interested in paying $420 a year, but I am living on a reporter’s pay.
The question, however, is whether everyone will pay, and whether the model can support Times-quality journalism in the future.