Thursday, March 24, 2011

Breaking Up With the New York Times

According the the New York Times website, I've read nearly two hundred articles this month, far in excess of the twenty free ones that are allowed before readers will be asked to pay a subscription fee in order to access their online articles and other content. The paywall comes down on March 28th, and I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. Do I limit my browsing to only reading one full article per weekday? Do I triangulate the content of the articles from blogger responses? Do I pony up and pay the subscription fee? This last one is unlikely because I don't feel I spend enough time on the site to justify the expense. Every time I pay for any sort of subscription service, I get the urge to overuse it to make sure I'm getting my money's worth. This is how I once ended up seeing sixty movies in a single month one summer, on the Blockbuster All-Access Pass. I have no urge to read the New York Times digital cover to cover every day, and I'm not keen on paying for the privilege to do so.

But here's what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to entertain the notion of piracy or finding ways around the paywall, such as by monkeying around with cookies or multiple accounts. If the New York Times wants to charge for previously free content, they're perfectly within their rights to do so. We've heard rumblings of potential financial issues off and on over the years, and I'd rather the Times survive in its current form behind a paywall than fall prey to cutbacks, or worse the clutches of Rupert Murdoch. Speaking of Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have already had paywalls up for some time now, and other major publications are thinking of following suit. The internet has not been kind to the publishing industry, replacing or rendering obsolete many of their former streams of revenue like classified ads. Many papers have folded or consolidated, and the remaining ones have shed jobs and cut back on coverage.

I feel mildly guilty every time I hear another newspaper is gone, or that reporters are juggling multiple beats, or that a local paper is going to have to do without its arts editor. I'm certainly one of those contributing to the problem, since I get the bulk of my news from the Internet and can't remember the last time I actually sat down with the print version of any newspaper or news magazine. As a kid, my parents got the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times every week, and we briefly had a subscription to TIME Magazine. Now I depend on news aggregators like Google News and read more commentary about certain items in the news than the actual news itself. I go to Craigslist for job listings, and the Weather Underground for the five-day forecast, and Moviefone for theater schedules. I know reporters are important, and that a free press provides an important checks against those with power. Professional journalists can't be replaced with amateur bloggers without the quality of our news coverage suffering. And the fact that a few companies own so many papers and other media outlets worries me.

So while it might be a mild hassle for me to remember not to click on the links to New York Times articles unless I want to use one of my twenty free articles per month to access it, in the end I don't mind. I can get along perfectly well without reading the New York Times regularly, but I think we would all be worse off in the long run if the New York Times didn't exist or was forced to compromise itself for financial reasons. The reason I started reading the Times in the first place was because I liked the fact that their writers would still occasionally use words that I had to look up in the dictionary - or rather, at I never want that to change. So I'll probably still look over their headlines to get a sense of the big stories of the day, and read a few articles when I'm looking for in-depth reporting on particular topics, but I'll probably start relying on other sources for my news. The BBC is always good for world affairs, I've been meaning to listen to more NPR, and I always go to the Los Angeles Times for local stories anyway.

It's never a nice feeling to be dumped, but I guess the relationship just wasn't working out. Money troubles are always the hardest to get over, and at the end of the day I guess my pagehits just couldn't make up for your deficit of ad revenue. Best of luck, New York Times. Maybe we'll get back together someday when I can afford you.

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