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 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.