Would You Pay for the New York Times?


The word on the street is that the New York Times may be moving to a pay scale for viewing content online.

New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations. After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

As someone who writes for a website that provides news and commentary for little to no pay (except for that joy of blogging!), this brings up an interesting question about what we should pay for and what we shouldn’t. From the early days of Feministing our commitment to keeping it free was based on one issue and one issue alone–accessibility. However, as I have written here for 5 years, the reality of working for something with no pay has hit me, the lack of resources affects the depth with which I can write, the lack of resources forces me to have a multitude of other sources of income pushing Feministing to the back in the realm of passion project since as we all know, passion alone cannot sustain us, pay our rent or feed us.
That said, Feministing is only one website with a devout following (oh how we love you!), but there are a plethora of places at this point to receive free feminist insight. Similarly, this market of free information has plagued newspapers and they have reacted in many different ways, either through lay-offs, downsizing, charging for online circulation, etc, etc. The New York Times is one of the best newspapers in the world, it provides hard-hitting journalism, while other sources falter in the face of rough economic times for traditional journalism. Matt Yglesias speaks briefly to how it might affect him and his work,

But this raises the question from a blogger’s point of view of how I should react to a paid model for the Times. Obviously if there’s some really unique piece of reporting that it’s the NYT and not anyplace else, I’ll link to it. But a lot of news stories are slightly routine–everyone has a writeup of major political and foreign developments. So will I owe it to the readers to find Washington Post or AP or Reuters or BBC or Politico versions of those stories to link to? Or should I try to send a clear message to everyone that they ought to suck it up and pay to read the best newspaper in the world? Personally, I’d find it regrettable if the result of this decision was that I wound up spending more time publicizing inferior news sources but I’d also find it regrettable if the result was that I’m linking to more stuff that people can’t click through.

This conundrum is at the heart of internet culture and can be applied to debates around downloading movies, music and TV along with gaining access to information and news. One of the democratizing forces of internet lauded by so many internet advocates is the ways in which it has allowed those with computer access, (which frankly is still only a certain subset of the population, but still a lot more people than before), access to news media in ways that people didn’t have access to before along lines of race, class, gender, geographical location, age and ability. Basic free market analysis would suggest that this allows for a free market of information where the best one wins, right?
But see that is the thing with the internet, if you don’t have a plan to sustain yourself, popularity alone may not. At some point you have to make some money if you want to survive. Just ask Twitter.
So, while I personally and professionally understand why the New York Times has to go to a pay model, I wonder what this will mean for the New York Times. The first issue being corporate control of news media sends my media justice flags up in the air, since despite difficulty of many communities still having access to the internet, those that can get online can access information. And the second issue being the reality that news media has become a dime a dozen. Sure a few of us might pay, but most people will definitely not. Just check out this poll on Mashable where 63% of respondents said ‘absolutely not.’

Would you pay?

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33 Comments

  1. Renee
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I most certainly would not pay. If I were going to support a site it certainly would not be a conglomerate. There are far too many marginalized groups struggling for support for me to give a dollar to the Times. It’s sad but true.

  2. dawn_of_the_bread
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’m sceptical about all the people who rush to say the NYT is the best newspaper in the world, that it’s irreplaceable etc.
    I suspect that local and national news reporting can and will be done with blogs or other free media online. Comment and opinion pieces can be found anywhere, and the best stuff long ago stopped being exclusive to newspaper columns. As for international reporting, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, Reuters, the AP, Agence France Presse, etc all provide more than sufficient services, which can probably be expanded as newspapers themselves contract. Perhaps we will see a splintering of media into narrow, specialized areas, so that you don’t go to one place for all your news and comment. This would probably be a positive development.
    An alternative model would be for newspapers like the NYT to receive a public subsidy, similar to how the BBC is run. As with the BBC, it needn’t necessarily lead to biased reporting; but it probably would run counter to American ideas of a free press and the BBC is such as ‘establishment’ institution which emerged organically in the twentieth century that it might be impossible to replicate it. Certainly the Italian state media is heavily compromised, to give a contrasting example.
    Fortunately, none of this is happening overnight, and the financial failure of newspapers is largely due to their replacement by alternatives. I’m surprised that Feministing isn’t profitable through advertising, however, given that the only overheads are server space and bandwidth.

  3. aleks
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Where does the money from the Don’t Let The Dentist Fool You and Get Ripped In Six Weeks ads go? Is that all for site maintenance?
    I wouldn’t pay for the NYT unless they massively curtailed the dissemination of their stories to freely available outlets such as Google News and other newspapers that remain free online and run NYT pieces.

  4. AMM
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The New York Times is one of the best newspapers in the world
    If it really is “one of the best,” then the standards of newspaper journalism must have sunk pretty low.
    As a commuter into NYC, I have the opportunity to see it pretty much daily, and I’ve been sufficiently unimpressed that I won’t even read it for free. The majority of articles are fluff or some talking head’s opinion and the local news is limited to what is of interest to the wealthiest 5-10%. The reporting has a very strong pro-Establishment bias and tends to be selective as to what they consider worth reporting. And they don’t seem to be good at fact-checking, to judge by how often they get caught out.
    On the other hand, they do seem to have actual reporters or stringers on-site in many places in the world, rather than just re-hashing someone else’s reporting like many news organizations.

  5. Athenia
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I don’t know. I think the NYT needs to more even MORE valuable content–it can’t be just “this is what happened”, it has to be the “why, how, where, and history”. I think tiered paid/free content is what will happen.
    I feel the same way about feministing—I don’t feel motiviated to pay for reposted links, but long, engaging, original content is something I’d consider. Also, I feel the content needs to be more formalized—like the feature content need to come out regularly, all at once instead of maybe one week of great posts and the next mostly reposted links (I realize reposting links could be a lot of time, but it’s not original content from feministing).
    Are you guys available on the kindle?

  6. geek_girl
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I wouldn’t pay. I can make do on the free stuff, and regularly do with WSJ. I have local news online, and MSNBC, CNN, and television. No wonder the papers are in trouble.

  7. cattrack2
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    A few years ago the NYT started charging for articles & I stopped reading them & started reading WaPo. So as much as I hate to see our newspapers going bankrupt, and as much as I realize that free sites can’t possibly fufill the role of the NYT, no I wouldn’t start paying for the NYT.
    The problem with the NYT versus WSJ is that while the journalism of the NYT is truly excellent, their focus is too broad and competitors too numerous to justify a subscription in the way that the WSJ does.
    They should end the income tax for newspapers, in much the same way that they do for non profits. Newspapers absolutely fulfill a unique & necessary public good in a democracy. I worry that with present economic trends that US journalism will come to resemble the highly partisan and fairly tilted British model.

  8. Comrade Kevin
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    The Times>/i> is, and may always be the Gold standard of American journalism, but I find this is mostly true because of the access it has to the halls of power.
    That being said, the internet does encourage a wealth of different points of view and although at times sifting through echo chamber and superfluous commentary is difficult, there are many talented writers who would not have a platform otherwise.
    In the Age of Enlightenment, those who wished to weigh in on the debates current raging wrote pamphlets or treatises. Some of them were of inferior quality, but some of them were both heavily pertinent and well-crafted.

  9. Mama Mia
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I can tell you from personal experience that those ads do not pay much. Literally fractions of fractions of pennies. So if they covered even site maintenance, I would be surprised.

  10. kittycat
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Why would anyone ever pay for something they can legally get for free elsewhere? “Hi yes, I’d like to buy this balloon from you. Yes, I realize the person down the street is giving them away for free, but I like your business model better.”
    Now, the free balloon might have an advertisement on it, but does that really matter? A balloon is a balloon and an article on Mark McGuire’s steroid use is essentially the same everywhere.

  11. Mama Mia
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I’m kind of surprised by everyone’s responses. News doesn’t gather itself. A person, who has to pay the rent and their feed their kids, goes somewhere and writes it down. Even if it is just a simple story, someone who needs a salary is doing the WORK to gather it.
    It isn’t a question of whether the NYT is good enough to pay for. Eventually, all the “free” news will have to be paid for, the way we used to pay for it. Bloggers feel entitled to reblog about the news stories other people have written, but that isn’t news gathering. It’s repeating someone else’s work. It isn’t new, and it isn’t free. Someone had to pay for it. And right now, newspapers are going under because they haven’t figured out collect money they have rightfully earned.
    It is a myth that the internet is free or that all information should rightly be free. People are doing work and must survive.

  12. aleks
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    If it really is “one of the best,”
    It is.
    then the standards of newspaper journalism must have sunk pretty low.
    They have.

  13. AllyB
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    I would absolutely pay to read the NYT online. I don’t think I’m entitled to its resources and journalistic labor (whatever its genuine faults or weaknesses) for free.
    I was looking forward to being a paper subscriber to the NYT once I finally finished grad school and got a job–but believe it or not, although I moved to a decent-sized city in New York State, there isn’t weekday home delivery in my area! So for me, paying for online content would be a way of accomplishing the same end (although without the physical paper, which I prefer to a computer screen).

  14. Honeybee
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I agree

  15. cmb
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    i’ve been thinking about paying for websites.
    my problem with paying for the new york times is that i’m not sure if i actually want to read the article i’m clicking on. half the time i get down a paragraph or two and think ‘this is bullshit!’ and quit reading. i’d rather not pay for that experience.
    since accessibility is key to the popularity and success of websites, making them pay only would probably cripple them.
    i was wondering if donations might be easier on the haitian earthquake model. at the end of the article you could have a phone number that says “buy the author a coffee” and if the audience is really impressed with the reporting they could send a buck or two, you know, pass the hat. that way the readership pays for what they find valuable after they’ve been able to read it, not before.

  16. cmb
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    yeah that’s what i was thinking two. maybe new york times is replaceable. but it has to be replaced by someone who also has to eat and live somewhere.

  17. baddesignhurts
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    i deal with this all the time in my own career/area of practice as a graphic designer and aspiring architect. it’s an issue of quality. i deserve to be paid for my creative labor, as i have spent a lot of money and time educating myself. i don’t work for free except for specific pro bono efforts, which are for non-profit projects that i believe are socially beneficial.
    other than that, screw you. just because i don’t make a widget and your 12-year-old nephew can jerk around photoshop doesn’t mean i will make free logos for all of my friends’ start-ups. and just because i enjoy what i do and am passionate about it doesn’t mean i’m not worth paying.
    if journalists feel the same way, more power to ‘em. the flip side of this is that they have to produce a better product. i don’t specifically care for the new york times (friedman is an idiot), but i believe in paying for what you consume.
    i also find it ironic when people complain about advertising as a social ill, but then balk at paying for media. advertising has made it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy things at little to no direct cost. but everything has a price, and we should never forget that.

  18. TB
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    What’s the business model of the AP and Reuters? Are newspapers paying them to reprint their stories?
    I am sure that a few massive, superficial conglomerate news reporting institutions will survive the impending death of newspapers-as-we-know-them. But unless we institute massive public money support, local and investigative reporting will suffer deeply, and our national comprehension of issues will suffer because of that.
    A few years back, Gene Weingarten, a WaPo columnist, wrote an astounding investigative piece into parents who forget their children in locked cars, leading to their deaths. It was heartbreaking, incredibly well-crafted, and clearly took a HUGE amount of effort. It haunts me to this day because that’s the level of quality writing and reporting it had. We need a model that’s going to continue to pay for such work to be done.
    I do have hopes that new advances in technology we’ll see over the next few years may provide some more compelling platforms for online newspapers, such that they would be able to convince a public used to free net content that there’s something worth paying for. Smart phone tech has brought us apps which show that millions of people will pay tiny amounts of money for things, and it does all add up.

  19. Liza
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The conglomerate had to lay off 100 people, so it’s not like their size comes with much wealth.

  20. Liza
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I would. Because I’m a journalist. So I understand a) how the Times is worth the money and b) how hard it is to make a living when everyone wants you to give your hard work away for free.
    Would you go into a clothing store and say, hey, I love this dress, but I don’t really see why I should have to pay for it? No, because that would be ludicrous. The store has its expenses: rent, paying employees, other operating costs. So you’re covering that. They also had to buy the dress from a company that pays employees, pays for raw materials and operations, etc.
    Well, the Times pays for its building, it pays printing fees (and bandwith/maintainance fees for online content), it pays reporters/photographers/editors, etc. There’s no reason journalism should be given away for free other than the fact that people don’t understand how important and valuable it is.
    For all the crap people say about the media, you’d all miss it if it weren’t there.

  21. margosita
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s too late for the NYT to ask for money. I agree with Mama Mia and yet, if I clicked over to the NYT and it asked for my credit card number? I wouldn’t give it. They have to change what they are offering in order to get people to feel justified paying for what has been free for years. For example, I think subscribers should get ad-free content and some of the options (like saving articles) that aren’t available now. Things like the NYT Magazine articles I’d be willing to pay for. But if they want me to read them for current, daily news, they have to keep it free or give me a reason to choose them over other free content that will give me what I need to know.
    People need to value the work that newspapers do, but the old newspaper model of paying just to know what’s going on? That’s out the window and everyone needs to be thinking of ways to evolve, rather than ways to drag people back to out of date models.

  22. aleks
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to the news for stories about Mark McGuire’s steroid use, then yes one source is as good as another. For those interested in Iraq and Healthcare Reform, the quality of the source matters.

  23. aleks
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    You’re absolutely right, I just can’t afford to pay for something if I can legally get it free. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying for or that they shouldn’t find ways to get paid for it.

  24. Mr M. Crockett
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    i also find it ironic when people complain about advertising as a social ill, but then balk at paying for media. advertising has made it possible for large numbers of people to enjoy things at little to no direct cost. but everything has a price, and we should never forget that.
    Firstly, the problem with this is that (as well as being a mild form of brainwashing) adverts are often intrusive, flashy, distracting, underhand, contain spyware malware or click jacking. Not all ads do, but a fair few of them.
    As far as this story goes – it’s possibly the start of what is to come. There is one elephant in the room that nobody has yet mentioned – Adblock Plus. ABP is currently getting around 100,000 downloads daily. What was once the preserve of computer geeks and power users is slowly becoming mainstream.
    Personally, I first heard about ABP when the first major Facebook redesign happened several years ago. A link to the Mozilla add-on page went viral as a means of ‘hitting Facebook where it hurts’. All that needs to happen for adblocking to truly snowball now is for a popular website to do something that seriously annoys it’s users. A similar viral campaign now could prove to be a tipping point.
    Also, in browser terms, more people are leaving Internet Explorer behind in favour of Firefox (my browser of choice) of Google’s Chrome, this will only accelerate when European Union customers get a ballot screen when they buy a new PC.
    As more and more people block ads, advertising revenue will continue to fall.
    The logical conclusion of this is that more and more sites will eithor have to find another means of making their websites viable, charging for content being one option, and of course, some websites – including news sites – will fold.
    The other aspect to all of this is that people tend not to want to pay for something that they can get or free elsewhere. Add the recession into the mix and you will find that a news paysite does not get much custom.
    As far as the argument about quality journalism goes, I’m sure that many Feministing regulars like quality, investigative, in-depth journalism every bit as I do myself. Sadly, that is not most people. A lot of people like a headline with a few easily digestible facts.
    I suspect that in many ways, we will see a back to basics internet five years from now.

  25. katemoore
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    What people are missing when they talk about “Yay! It’ll all be OK, blogs will fill in the gaps!” is the value of fact checking. Guess who the first people to get laid off at newspapers always are? Copy editors and fact checkers. The people who make sure people get stuff right and write it in an understandable fashion. The people, in other words, who defend against fluff, PR creep and just plain misinformation. And with every piece of misinformation that gets into the public discourse, no matter how small, it’s that much harder for the truth to prevail. But apparently that isn’t important.
    Am I bitter? Fuck yes, I’m bitter.

  26. Alice
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    One of the democratizing forces of internet lauded by so many internet advocates…
    Isn’t the Internet the opposite of democratizing? Before, mass broadcast media had to appeal to the widest possible audience, so they tried to please the majority and anyone in the minority pretty much just had to live with it, which seems like a fundamentally democratic decision making process to me. Now, people have a chance at getting the sort of media they like regardless of what the majority wants, taking away from the elements of democratic rule that predominated media previously.

  27. cmb
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    the word ‘democrat’ means rule by the people. at this point the internet allows sizable minorities to have a significant voice, thus increasing the influence the people have over their media. i would say that’s democratic but not in a ‘majority rules’ kind of way. we don’t need just one outcome in media the way we might in other things. variety serves everyone.

  28. baddesignhurts
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    you’re absolutely right that ad revenue will continue to fall if people find more and more ways to block ads. so if it falls, people will either need to pay directly for a product/service, or the company goes out of business.
    >>
    quite frankly, so what? if i want an advertising-free experience, i can go pay $12 an issue for adbusters. if i want something for below cost, i have to put up with advertising. for most people, it’s a good deal—look at the number of commenters who aren’t willing to pay. in their case, advertising (even annoying advertising) is a positive thing for them, as it subsidizes their consumption.

  29. LalaReina
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I will pay not one dime.

  30. LalaReina
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I agree, I never complain about ads. Need ads to pay the bill? Fine with me.

  31. pacifistvigilante
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    Agreed. All the major news organizations have layed off or bought out their journalists. The biggest AP and Reuters.
    The revenue they used to obtain from classified ads has dried up because of services like Craigslist. As a result, democracy will suffer as stories that need to be told, like those about corrupt politicians, fall through the cracks.
    It was believed that bloggers would fill this void by acting as micro-journalists and that social-bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit would float the important items to the surface. This fails because bloggers, for the most part, are editorial based and simply link to reputable news outlets instead of breaking the story themselves. As Samhita said, she is not paid to be a content producer. So it’s not feasible for bloggers to do the same unless it’s a very specific issue that is important to them (and they are willing to leave the house, fact check, and dumpster dive).
    The blogger model of news delivery also suffers from the fact that we are not reading from a “trusted authority.” Arguably, established blogs are trust worthy, but blogs rarely have a vested economic stake in maintaining that air of authority. Especially when, on the Internet, mud slinging is cheap with few repercussions.
    /ramble

  32. pacifistvigilante
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    Agreed. All the major news organizations have layed off or bought out their journalists. The biggest AP and Reuters.
    The revenue they used to obtain from classified ads has dried up because of services like Craigslist. As a result, democracy will suffer as stories that need to be told, like those about corrupt politicians, fall through the cracks.
    It was believed that bloggers would fill this void by acting as micro-journalists and that social-bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit would float the important items to the surface. This fails because bloggers, for the most part, are editorial based and simply link to reputable news outlets instead of breaking the story themselves. As Samhita said, she is not paid to be a content producer. So it’s not feasible for bloggers to do the same unless it’s a very specific issue that is important to them (and they are willing to leave the house, fact check, and dumpster dive).
    The blogger model of news delivery also suffers from the fact that we are not reading from a “trusted authority.” Arguably, established blogs are trust worthy, but blogs rarely have a vested economic stake in maintaining that air of authority. Especially when, on the Internet, mud slinging is cheap with few repercussions.
    *ramble*

  33. kittycat
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Short of op-eds I am sure there is nothing the NYT could print that I couldn’t read about at myriad other places. And to suggest that the NYT has better coverage of Iraq and Healthcare issues (since according to you these are the only issues worth caring about)than anyone else is naive.

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