On March 28, The New York Times established a paywall on its website that will require a subscription in order to view more than an allotted 20 free articles per month.
When the Times initially floated the announcement that this was going down, I wanted to bang my head against the wall. No one wants to pay for something that’s been free for years, something that asked for just a couple of keystrokes before it gave you “all the news that’s fit to print.”
Fishbowl NY, a media blog, broke it down: $15 a month for Internet access and a smartphone app. $20 a month for the site plus an iPad app. $35 per month for everything. If you already subscribe to the print edition, you’re set.
Perhaps as a consolation prize of sorts, the New York Times said that if you get to an article through a link, like on Twitter or Facebook, it won’t count toward your 20 stories per month. Thus the birth of the Free NYTimes Twitter account — its bio promises links to NYT articles “as they’re published.” Of course, I applauded them for so blatantly trying to beat the system. It felt like some kind of strange justice. Now Mashable is reporting that the Times wants Twitter to disable the FreeNYTimes account.
If that decision was up to me, I’d have the strong desire to tell them that if they didn’t see that one coming and didn’t think of a way to prevent it, then the existence of the account is 100 percent their problem. Too bad.
That little snafu itself, I think, is fairly symptomatic of the situation the stodgy old papers of yesteryear find themselves in. They have no idea how to roll with the digital punches. They can’t cope and they definitely can’t keep up. So, instead of going back to the drawing board to figure out a revenue model we haven’t seen before, they go back to the mid-’90s when readers were constantly asked to pay $3.95 to pay for an article whether it was from a newspaper or a research journal.
Part of what I don’t like about the paywall is that it turns news into a privilege. No one can afford to be uninformed about what is happening in the world around them, but full access to the heralded paper of record is now off-limits to anyone on a budget, including a lot of college students. Arguably, college-age people have the greatest need to be educated in world affairs. The older generation likes to gripe about how we – the bunch of goof-offs that we are, apparently – are going to run the country some day. Maybe they should pay for our subscriptions.
There is so much going on in the world; there are events taking place that will irrevocably shape the history of the country and the world itself, and the New York Times is hampering the flow of information.
The flip side, though, is that I really don’t have statistics on how many college students read the New York Times. We get our news from so many different sources; I started wondering if the paywall would affect us at all. Personally, I’ll do what I’ve always done – scan headlines and hop over to the Guardian if I want to read anything in depth. The Times might be trying to get more money, but they might just be teaching a whole lot of people to live without them.
It’s a hard call to make. As a journalism major, I understand that business has been hurting. I get that people want to be paid for the work they do, and yes, most bloggers would be up the creek if they had to do real reporting themselves. At the same time, I have no ill will toward aggregators. So long as they credit and link to the original source of the content, I’m happy to see a worthy news story get pushed farther out into the public consciousness.
It would be a wonderful thing if the industry could be motivated by this alone. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with old, scared people.
I guess there’s always the Onion.
Erin Carson, Vision editor, is a senior journalism major in the Honors Program.