Sunday, April 24, 2011

Life With the NY Times Paywall

It's been nearly a month since the New York Times enforced its paywall, and a month since the blog post where I freaked out about the paywall. So how am I doing? Surprisingly well.

I still visit the New York Times website daily and spend a lot of time with the "Most-Emailed" and "Most Blogged" stories pages. I've still been reading more of the World News than anything else, especially the coverage of the Japanese tsunami aftermath, which has been excellent. However, I haven't hit my twenty-story limit for the month yet. I've been pretty good about only reading one full story per weekday. There were a few early mishaps, where I clicked on links to stories without remembering that I wasn't supposed to, but that only happened a few times. Now I go to the Times website directly and take a look at all the headlines before I figure out what I want to read.

In the course of the last month, the biggest change was really that I became more self-aware of my browsing habits. According to the Times' hit counter, I racked up nearly two hundred articles in the month before this, but I wasn't really reading all the articles. More often than not I just skimmed a few paragraphs before moving on to something else. I could get the gist of many pieces simply by reading the headlines and brief descriptions that were provided on the aggregation pages, and usually that was all I wanted from them. For instance, the most controversial New York Times story of the past month was probably "Is Sugar Toxic?" published on April 17th, which profiled the research of Dr. Robert Lustig. While I was curious about the alarmist article title, I wasn't in the mood to read a multi-page analysis on the evils of refined sugar, so I just did some Googling and figured out the gist of Lustig's arguments.

However, opinion pieces and reviews have gotten more of my attention, since these are the articles containing information that really can't be found elsewhere. I tried reading other writer's counterpoints to the various New York Times opinion columnists, but I kept running into too many recontextualization problems, especially with anything political. Eventually I concluded that you really can't get the impact of an opinion article from a response piece. Most of the people who take David Brooks to task simply don't write as well as David Brooks, and it's often not the opinion itself that makes an op/ed worth reading, but the expression of it.

There are also a few sections that I've given up reading almost completely. I skip the travel and business articles pretty much without a thought now, where I used to feel a little guilty about it. Ditto the food and wine pages. I used to read through them for fun, but the truth is that I'm no big fan of alcohol, any profiled restaurants are usually well outside my price range, and I've never used a single recipe I've ever gotten out of a newspaper. I've also drastically cut down on the local New York stories, and instead have been making an effort to pay attention to what's going on in my own neck of the woods. There's really no excuse for knowing New York politics better than my own state's, no matter how much fun Eliot Spitzer is. New York is not the center of the universe, and the New York Times need not be the center of my online news media galaxy.

Or so I thought. One thing that surprised me as the weeks went on, was that I still found myself reading up on all the biggest news stories on the Times website, including those that were being heavily covered elsewhere, that there were plenty of other sources I could have gone to instead. The New York Times simply has the better journalists in most cases, and they turn out better written and more comprehensive articles than I'm going to get from the Associated Press or Reuters. Faced with a decision between a smaller story with content only the New York Times was going to feature and a bigger story that every publication would have something to say about, I usually went with the bigger story. I want to see what the Times has to say about the events of the day. That's why I've been putting up with all the hassle of counting my page hits and weighing articles against each other. It's why I still automatically go to the New York Times website first, out of all the news sites I browse.

Paywall or no paywall, I still think of it as my newspaper, even if I can't afford it. And even if it can't afford me.

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