New York Times: Honest work means honest pay

January 20, 2010

Some people hate The New York Times and some people love The New York Times — but everybody wants to read The New York Times for free. That will largely end in 2011. You probably read that today on the Internet, and you probably read it for free.

The Times said it will let you read some articles per month for free, then make you pay for more. It’s what the Financial Times does. Who said it had to be original? If you subscribe to the print edition, just keep reading it. This isn’t really about you. This is a decision that will, for better or for worse, inform the public that if you want journalists to tell you stuff or entertain you, you need to pay them to do journalism all day long.

Lots of people have opinions on this and lots of people have done the research. Even more people style themselves Internet experts. The one thing they can’t help is sharing opinions on whether news sites should charge or whether they’re not just misguided for doing it — but whether they’re stupid or criminally wrong.

Everybody knows the sins that newspapers committed online. People will tell you: “They should have done it in 1995. They should do this, they should do that. If they do this, they have to give up that. They’re old media, they deserve to die. They’re doomed. They should sell. Too little too late. It won’t move the needle. They’re doing the wrong thing. I have data, do the math.”

Many people make good points. Still, what does the Times have to lose? visitors? Pageviews? Ad revenue that isn’t really doing them many favors anyway? Publishers get so much conflicting information, and, to be honest, are a bit doddering and confused — so they stand still. Things fall apart from there.

If newspapers keep giving away their news for free, the news will eventually stop coming. That’s not good. Look at it this way: you have to pay for news because you have to pay people to make it. When people say,  “Screw newspapers. I get news on the Internet,” someone likely got paid to get that stuff written or photographed or shot.

Some people work for love and some for money, and most of us work for a combination of those things. I love journalism, but I need money to do it. If I can’t get money, I have to spend some or all of my day doing something different, and then I can definitely kiss my Pulitzer dreams and your enlightened mind goodbye. So it goes for the Times. They can’t staff the Times like volunteer firefighters. Nor can any paper. Beyond the calculations, consultants and chaos, that’s the story.

Newer outlets are doing great things. Change will come. Old trees will fall and new ones will grow. OK. But they need money, and all the alternatives in the world from philanthropists to advertising, can’t disguise the fact that people need to pay for what they value. Ask a record label if you don’t believe me. Tell your friends in the TV business that they’re next.

Speaking as a reader, I want the news for free. I read huge amounts of news from papers all over the country, in particular for my job. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that forever. It irks me to think that, but I know it’s true. I also know that I’ve gotten away with murder for years because of this. Secretly, that’s what makes people rail against the Times and anyone else who wants to stop giving away their news and start charging for it. They know they got away with it for a while too.


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Newspapers didn’t go broke giving away their content; they went broke when Craig’s List started giving their ads away for free. Classified ads were the lifeblood of print, and Craig’s List destroyed the market.

It will be interesting to see what happens with, but it irks me when people blame the flight of eyeballs ($0.35/issue) instead of the flight of ads ($100s/ad).

Posted by corones1 | Report as abusive

I am a European and while reading NYT I care only about 8-9 articles every week. Everyday I receive NYT headlines by mail and usually I read one or two articles put in the “top stories”. Generally speaking I think that frontpage articles have to be free. Frontpages are like shop windows. Do you want access to a newspaper on the whole? Pay it! NYT has to lose his influence in the world, that is bad news to journalism.

Posted by Archilocus | Report as abusive