Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who is the New York Times for?

Starting this fall, the New York Times is going to start charging folks to access the editorial page on-line. It'll be roughly $50. I don't know if it will be $50 a year or a one-time charge or a month, because I'm not going to pay it. For now, everything else will be available for "free" ("free" because you have to register and if you think your demographic information isn't extremely valuable to them and their advertisers, you are wrong) online. In Salon today, Frank Rich says that he believes that people will eventually not read newspapers in print, but online and thus, newspapers have got to figure out how to make money from their online readers. The problem with this is that no newspaper makes money from its readers. They make money from advertising. The main, unspoken, purpose of a subscription list is to prove to advertisers that there are a bunch of people who will be reading the paper and, thus, might see their ads. But ad revenues on the net are notoriously unreliable. All this is to say that I understand that part of the argument: newspapers need to make money if they're going to hire folks to provide the news, and if they can't make money the old way, they need to make it a new way. But here's what bugs me about it. The Times sets itself up as the paper of record, not just for New York, but for the nation. And yet, what are the two biggest problems with the Times? Its coastalphilic attitude that everything important happens in New York, D.C., and L.A. and its insistence on talking about the rest of the nation (and even the working class people in its own city) as if it should obviously have the last word on what our experiences mean. What is the only antidote for those two things? For people from the bottom rungs of the class ladder in NYC and from all walks of life from the rest of the country to read the paper and call them on their bullshit. You see that all the time in the letters to the editor, people from all over writing in to agree or disagree with what they saw in yesterday's paper. I'm certain that most of these folks don't subscribe to the paper. They probably read it online like I do. (I don't pay the $180 it costs to subscribe to my own hometown paper [and won't until Brad About You is gone]; I'm not going to pay $600 to subscribe to the Times.) And why do we read it? Because, for all its flaws, it may not be the paper of record it wants to be, but it certainly is the paper of discussion. People read it and talk about what they've read in it. But here they go, doing exactly the thing you'd expect from a paper that can't decide who it's for, building a little wall to sort out its readership for it. Unfortunately, the very people who can't be bothered to pay $50 for the "privilege" of reading the op/ed page are the very people the Times needs to read it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This doesn't deal with the fee based editorials or the coast-centric attitude (I guess it is a detour) but since I am sick of the gross increase in junk mail* when I use my real log-in when I need a news article online this is my new good friend:



*Some papers say they don't really do this, but sometimes proximity is a sign of causation. As in the case of 24-48 hours of reading under my account, the corresponding email gets flooded.

5/17/2005 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Peggasus said...

Well, besides the fact that I don't agree at all with that Rich guy's presumption that print media will be shortly obsolete, I do, however, agree with you that they have grossly misjudged who their prime market might well be. Remember those obnoxious commercials that were on a year or so ago, featuring the nose-up-in-the-air types getting all snooty about home delivery? Man, I wanted to smack them all into next week.

Shit, I can hardly read all I want in the Chicago Tribune on a daily basis without worrying about the stupid NTY.

And reading anything online will never replace lazing aound on a weekend morning with a cuppa coffee or whatever and perusing the paper at your own leisure. At least not in my lifetime.

5/17/2005 06:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another Anonymous says: I like the NYTimes Op-Ed page and I'll gladly pay the $50 a year for it which I think is very reasonable. I wouldn't pay any more than that, though. The Times will be offering even more extra services than have been widely written about so far (like a way to tag and save the articles), and eventually their archives will extend to the birth of the paper in the 1850's. (I wrote them a note and they sent back a form letter with this info.) Yes, their tone can be snooty and that puts me off sometimes, or individual writers do, but it's arguably the best group of news writers on the planet and I choose to support them economically. Everytime I try to switch to the Washington Post I end up coming back to the Times, although the Post is great, too. Other than that we subscribe to our home town paper, the Houston Chronicle, which has become a really good paper in its own right since its sale a year ago. Since they reprint some Times Op-Eds and other papers do as well, the Times pieces should be available on-line everywhere, just usually not same day as their original publication: www.houchron.com and www.houstonchronicle.com

5/19/2005 07:11:00 AM  

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