The toothpaste is out of the tube.  The public has been getting news online for years now, the most recent Pew Study showing the majority of people 30 and under use online sources as their “go to” for news.  And it’s been free.  So why does the New York Times think anyone will be willing to start paying $15 a month for the same access (after you’ve clicked on 20 times.)
As of March 28th, you’ll have to pay for anything past the home page and section fronts.  The fee for unlimited access to online content will be $195 a year.  Add on iPad access, it’s $260.  Unlimited digital access: $455.
Let’s get real.  I have been a news junkie my entire adult life.  I consume more news than just about anyone I know.  I get ill on vacations where I am removed from the news.  I have worked in the news business for three decades during which time I will take responsibility for destroying too many trees, perhaps forests. I am a heat-seeking missile for the latest coverage, the most in-depth coverage, the most creative or thoughtful coverage.  I have never balked at spending money on subscriptions for newspapers and countless magazines.  But I, for one, am not going to pay for the Times online.

Now, admittedly, I won’t have to:  my daily newspaper subscription entitles me to free access online.  I’m just sayin’, that if I was asked to, I wouldn’t.  The New York Times, and every other publication,  is going to have to figure out a more sensible business model.  Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. is calling it one of the most significant days in the Times’s 159-year history: “Our decision to begin charging for digital access will result in another source of revenue, strengthening our ability to continue to invest in the journalism and digital innovation on which our readers have come to depend.”

I agree it’s a significant day for the New York Times.  Only I think it day that will go down  as the worst miscalculation of consumers in the company’s history.  Sulzberger seems to believe the world is invested in good journalism.   Sadly, they don’t care.

This isn’t a critique of the New York Times and what many see as its mistakes or declining standards over the past few years. This is not about Judith Millers’s war drums before the invasion of Iraq, or Jason Blair, or the embarrassment of the front page John McCain faux mistress story in the middle of the presidential campaign.

I believe the New York Times, on balance, is still an outstanding newspaper, worthy of its many Pulitzer prizes.  Their obituaries of the 9/11 victims, focusing on who they were as people instead of what they did for living, was a defining moment in journalism.  Their science, health and medical reporting is in a league of its own.  Their willingness to take on pharmaceutical companies separates them from network news which has become co-dependent. Tom Friedman, Maureen Down, Paul Krugman, I love them even when I don’t love them.  I will miss Frank Rich.

After all, a brilliant mind, even one with whom you disagree, is a terrible thing to waste.  Which brings me back to the wacky decision to charge for the New York Times online.


Pay for news online? Ask the record companies how it’s worked for them,  that is, charging for downloads after years free, mostly illegal access.   The executives should be easy to find; there aren’t many left in business.

What, consumers don’t want to support the great artists of our time?  They don’t want to pay for the repertoire and development of the next generation of genius?  If the last great Sting CD sold 88,000 instead of 8 million,  does anybody care?  Hell no.  It’s the wild west and genius will either have to be cultivated at home by Tiger moms or find another way or time to bubble up.

I suspect most consumers care even less about supporting the great journalists of our time (or of our Times.)  They’re not even certain who they are anymore. Neither am I.   We’re in a Wikipedia world now where “just smart enough” is the new black.

For a long time now, the consumers Sulzberger hopes will subscribe online, those of us  I shall call “advanced news consumers,” have known you cannot get your news from any one, or two or three sources.  You’ve got to at least read the New York Times, Drudge, watch Fox News,  check the Daily Beast, Huffington Post, New York Post, dip into Today, the View, 60 Minutes, and Washington Post twitters.  Add in your favorite Sunday morning political show, and you can keep up with, actually “fairly balance”  basic current events for yourself.

Recently, it’s been tough for the most independent of news junkies.  CNN’s primetime is painfully unwatchable starting at 8:00 every night with Elliot Spitzer.  MSNBC has fallen off the radar.  During the recent uprisings in Egypt, I searched and searched online until I found the best stream of news to match the cable television footage I had seen, surprisingly, at Mother Jones.  Al Jazeera English has been another source I’ve added to my mix.

Hiromitsu Shinkawa, 60, waves to rescuers before being hauled to safety today

Mr. Shinkawa isnt the only one who needs a lifeline


ABC News, I’m sorry to say, is too often a day or more behind the news cycles. Diane Sawyer’s first broadcast from Japan on Monday night, which was actually Tuesday morning there, included the story of Hiromitsu Shinkawa, the 60-year-old man rescued ten miles out to sea, clinging to a piece of  roof, reportedly his own.  That story had been everywhere since Sunday, including ABC’s site which had a link  from NBC News.  When Sawyer didn’t offer an update, I went online myself and found that, sadly, Mr. Shinkawa’s wife was still missing. It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy rescue story at all, but a cautionary tale of a man and  his wife  who had made the fateful decision to return to their home to collect some belongings as the wave approached.

That report, by the way, was from  the London Daily Mail online which regularly posts updates, and doesn’t charge a pence.