Paywalls And The Price Of Journalism

The New York Times‘ decision to start charging for online access has generated a firestorm of controversy.

The announcement that, starting next Monday, visitors to the Times website will generally be allowed no more than 20 “free” articles a month — there are several major exceptions — has drawn howls of indignation.  Criticism includes the very act of charging; the pricing itself; the several tiers of restrictions, and much more.

On the other side, supporters argue that the Times has created a smart balance, serving both casual readers and voracious news hounds; that the pricing model is both sensible and adaptable, and that news-gathering is not free.

I’m in the latter camp — and not just because I’m a journalist.  David Carr’s column this week expresses far better than I the reasons I believe the New York Times can — and must — charge daily online readers like me for its content.

But it wasn’t until yesterday’s finally-a-glimmer-of-hope news — the release of 4 of their top journalists, including Westporters Lynsey Addario and Tyler Hicks — that I realized how important an institution like the Times is.

People like Lynsey and Tyler serve an amazing role.  Their photographs have shown the world what Al Qaeda terrorists look like.  What the twin scourges of starvation and the oppression of women in Africa look like.  What a devastating earthquake in Haiti looks like.

And now, what Muammar Gaddafi’s war against his own people in Libya looks like.

Lynsey Addario (far left) and Tyler Hicks (far right) in Libya earlier this month.

Lynsey and Tyler — and their Times colleagues, reporters Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell — literally put their lives on the line this month, so the world could read about and see what’s going on in a land most of us knew very little about, but that is crucial to understanding the world today.

Lynsey and Tyler have done this — for over a decade, in more hot spots than I can count — because they have a passion for it.  They do it because they love photography, and they’re superb at it.  They do it because they feel compelled to share their talents, their insights, their visions and their work with a world that would have no other way of knowing — really knowing — what war, deprivation, destruction, terror, fear, hatred, and the rest of reality in the 21st century, really are.

They could not do it, of course, without the vast resources of the New York Times behind them.  Very few news organizations like the Times exist today.

Most papers are shells of their former selves.  American television networks have pretty much abandoned foreign coverage.  Al Jazeera, of all things, has been outstanding in its coverage of Egypt, Bahrain, Libya — and now Japan.  (Sure, only 2 or 3 cable companies carry it in the US.  But check it out online — you’ll be very impressed.)

So on Monday, I’ll gladly subscribe to the Times paywall.  I’ll happily pay for access to a very impressive news-gathering organization, with tremendous depth and breadth, and coverage around the world.

And I will dedicate my subscription to Lynsey Addario, Tyler Hicks, and the courageous, compelling work that they and all their New York Times colleagues do.

34 responses to “Paywalls And The Price Of Journalism

  1. The NYT paywall is a strange, incredibly porous beast, as designed. It will likely fail and take the NYT down with it. Too bad. After all the years that the Internet has been around the NYT management still doesn’t grok the web.

    Danny Sullivan has a wonderful article about this paywall’s idiocy at
    Leaky New York Times Paywall

  2. Great point, Dan! I was taught how to read the NYTimes at Long Lots Junior High School in 1963 and I’ve been addicted to information since then. They deserve our financial support! (BTW: They don’t publicize the all-access deal if you subscribe to home delivery of just the Book Review.$90 for a year is easier to pay, no matter how much I want to support journalism.)
    Peace & Love!

  3. I agree that there needs to be a way to pay the journalists who work on the front lines, both literally and figuratively. We need the editors who gather the various reports and make sure that they fit together and make sense. And we need Maureen Dowd and the other philosophers of our time. So how do we finance this? How many of us will continue to get our news reports for free? How many websites will copy articles from paysites to freesites? And how do AP and Reuters fit into all of this? The methods of payment will change and adapt, but it won’t take long for people to discover that you need to pay for quality.

  4. Adblock, remove cookies, and you can still read the once great Times for free. They really don’t get the whole internet thing.

  5. The shift over is messy and frustrating. I get the paper home delivered, and have for many years. And have been using it on-line, too. Yesterday I attempted, unsuccessfully, to enroll for the website and was told by a robotic computer that they can’t find any record of my account. Calls to the usual Times number, and a “having problems” number brought no contact with a real live human. I kept getting transferred from one menu to another, with no place I could locate to get any useful information. I finally wrote a nasty e-mail to the publisher, customer service dept. and a name listed as the head of the website. No response from anyone so far. There has to be a better way.

    • I, too, got a message that they couldn’t find my account. Perhaps there was too much traffic for the site to handle. Not a good way to start, but no biggie.

      The NYTimes and other papers of that ilk play a tremendously important role in society and are a good and vital balance to the biased blogs and cable news that have been spawned in this Internet age. When I listen to radio news or watch TV broadcasts, I become aware of how important the NYTimes is. Most of the news reported in other media are taken from the original reporting of the Times. Long live the New York Times!

      • Judith Miller… ’nuff said.

      • Judith Miller – ’nuff said

      • anonymous II

        The NYT is the primary source of biased news. Not worth paying for “news” that is old and biased. Newspapers will continue to lose market share.

        • Those who think the NYTimes is blatantly biased just don’t agree with what they read. Compare it to FOX and you will never again think the NYT is biased.

        • anonymous II

          Nonsense, the NYT is far left. It is the newspaper that defended Stalin during the Great Terror. There is no more biased newspaper than the NYT.

      • When I read the truth (from the blogs and other outlets) behind the news I realize just how biased the NYT really is, having said that I still read it daily (it’s one of those ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer things’, same with Huff ‘n Puff), but will not pay for it.
        Where was the NYT when John Kerry was fooling around on his cancer stricken wife? Oh, yeah, they were floating no less than 3 front page stories about John McCain and a lobbyist which was UNTRUE. The NYT settled a libel suit and then the National Inquirer of all papers broke the story – oh the horror!

        And lets not forget about the Howell Raines/Jason Blair scandal or quashing the ACORN story.

        Come to think of it the NYT also had no less than three front page stories about whether John McCain was eligible to be president since he was born in Panama…hmmm…was that a head fake to divert attention away from the other guy?!
        Inquiring minds would like to know.
        And for those who would like the Gray Lady, but don’t want to pay for it, there is always this –

        • Obviously I meant to say John Edwards not Kerry, although he has a reputation too.

  6. Yes, the Times’ paywall can be beaten. So can newsracks; you can jimmy the coin-operated lock with a screw driver. At a newstand, you can grab a paper and run without paying. And if your neighbor gets the paper delivered, you can sneak out early and steal it off the lawn. But why anyone feels that it’s somehow okay to do any of those things beats me, particularly when the paywall costs less per day than upsizing your morning latte from Starbucks.

    • Well said.

    • anonymous II

      There is no need to steal a newspaper; it is irrelevant. The news is old and can be had for free much sooner elsewhere. Newspapers are the buggywhips of media.

  7. The Dude Abides

    There is the saga about the 300 year old man in New Orleans that sits on a bar stool every day. He attributes his longevity to never knowing what time it is and not having read a newspaper in 200 years. Amen.

  8. The Dude Abides

    Washed over him like any good bourbon will do.

  9. Bravo, Dan!…this from you —
    Lynsey and Tyler have done this — for over a decade, in more hot spots than I can count — because they have a passion for it. They do it because they love photography, and they’re superb at it. They do it because they feel compelled to share their talents, their insights, their visions and their work with a world that would have no other way of knowing — really knowing — what war, deprivation, destruction, terror, fear, hatred, and the rest of reality in the 21st century, really are.

    such a necessary antidote to the rankling bluster of “Dude’s” comment on an earlier thread deriding these heroes as “adrenaline junkies”…my god, isn’t defending the free flow of information what these conflicts are all about…without them we devolve to an un-shepherded truth and stand blindly to the task of recording history….now just what the economic model is for “delivering” this fresh inked history, guess we’ll just have to continue watching that battle play out 🙂

    • The Dude Abides

      Once again hogwash. The real heroes on those on the ground fighting. Your rhetoric painting these photographers as some kind of martyrs diminishes what the real fighters are doing whether they are jarheads in Afganistan or freedom fighters in Libya. Stop the pretense. “Free flow of information?”
      I can tell you have never been in a war zone.

      • Tell it like it is, Dude. I am tired of reading 10 articles about some overpaid photographers who don’t have enough sense to get out of a war torn country. I have a son on his fourth tour in Afganistan and Iraq. Where are the stories about him and his fellow soliders who go though hell every day.

        • I’m glad they’re safe and headed home to family and friends.
          But, ‘Why couldn’t have been Geraldo?’

  10. Perfectly put Dan. Readers have had the luxury of getting something of value for free for too long, and I would feel this way even if I was not a journalist. And I optimistically hope this will be a trend that snowballs throughout the industry.

    • I take it then you’ve made a nice contribution to Mr. Woog and his wonderful blog. If not, why? You seem to have had the luxury of getting something of value for free too long.
      My apologies if you have in deed made a contribution to said blog.

    • Justin Leonard

      Newspapers are a dinosaur of the past. Their biases are a result of their determined effort to find market share instead of reporting the news. It is the same with broadcast news. I find the community newspapers far more informative than the national publications.

    • You better hope for snowball to keep your job.

  11. Who will replace the intensive, investigative reporting that the Times does if it goes bust? I don’t see any news organization on the horizon that has the commitment and resources to cover the multiplicity of stories that the NYT covers in-depth every day. I, for one, am happy to pay.

  12. To call the NY Times the most biased newspaper is just plain silly. Just for starters, there’s this thing called The NY Post, which openly editorializes in its headlines and the first paragraphs of its “news” stories.
    I learned to read The NY Times from Ella Demers at Long Lots Junior High. I thank her for that. That having been said, I don’t think this venture is going to be successful. It was an abject failure for Newsday.

    • The editorials in the NYT begin on the first page as well. There is no in-depth reporting in the NYT, there is only endless editorializing.

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