Can the New York Times paywall save journalism?

Today, after a short trial run with their Canadian subscribers, the New York Times will start charging for some digital content.

This plan has been in the works at NYT for over a year, and has been receiving much praise and much criticism across the media world.

This paywall decision is particularly important in today’s media climate. We all know that more and more people are getting their news online. Well online advertising pays pennies to the dollar compared to what print advertising pays, and advertising is the shaky business model that most media outlets have been built on. That includes the NY Times.

Journalism isn’t cheap, and even as newsrooms have been shrinking and papers have been shedding reporters and staff, we need a major change in the journalism business model for it to continue to exist.

Enter: NY Times paywall.

First off, let’s set some facts straight about what the paywall is and isn’t.

  1. Everyone gets to see 20 articles per month without charge at
  2. Articles linked on blogs, facebook, twitter and other social media sites will always be accessible, even if you’re over your 20 article limit. Also there will be a limited number of free articles from search engines.
  3. Articles on the homepage and the “Top News” section on smartphones and tablets will always be free and accessible.
  4. The digital subscription is free for any newspaper subscribers. The online-only (meaning just from a computer) digital subscription is $15/month, the tablet/smartphone subscription is $25/month. (Although they are giving away the first month for only 99 cents).

So as paywalls go, this seems to be a pretty carefully crafted one. I’m happy to see that social media/blog links won’t be blocked, because that would surely make our job harder if our readers couldn’t read the NYT articles we reference. I also strongly believe we need innovative models for the funding of journalism, and finding a way to re-accustom people to subscribing to the magazines and newspapers they read regularly could be one piece of this puzzle.

Anna Clark has her top five reasons to pay for the NY Times, which I recommend checking out. I personally subscribe the Sunday edition of the newspaper (mostly for the NY Times magazine, and for the novelty of reading in print), so I’m happy to know that a get a digital subscription included. I subscribe to a number of print magazines as well because I do believe in supporting the entities I read regularly (also, hint: most magazine subscriptions are very cheap these days).

Journalism is costly–particularly the type that requires on the ground reporting. As a blogger I rely heavily on content from sources like the NYT, often a starting point off of which I base my own analysis. I usually can’t be in Libya, or in Madison, or Japan, or wherever the important stories are developing. We need a journalism industry that can afford to do that reporting. NPR has done amazing things with its reader supported model, and subscriptions are just another version of that.

The advertising business model sucks, is inconsistent, sometimes presents murky ethical questions, and has been failing the industry for years. So I say good luck NYTimes, I hope it works for you.

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