10.21.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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the new york times paywall
i can infiltrate it with my pinky
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)

In an attempt to stay alive in the age of dying newspapers, The New York Times has finally announced that it will sort of begin charging readers to view its content online. With such a move, the newspaper follows in the footsteps of The Wall Street Journal and my hometown newspaper, The Denver Post, among others.

Notice I inserted “sort of charging.” This baby step by The Times and all those before it, is nothing more than a bit of finger wagging by a parent who is in desperate need of Super Nanny intervention.

This strategy, though it’s a step in the right direction, leaves a huge loophole, through which light readers of these newspapers can access content without paying a cent. Contrary to what many are calling it, it is far from being any kind of wall, much less a paywall. If you can manage to keep your Times fix down to a 20-article minimum per month, for instance, you can have those 20 articles, including videos and stuff within that 20-article ceiling, for free.

The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post just offer more features with their paid e-edition subscriptions, but don’t seem to have a limit to the amount of articles they allow readers to access for no money at all.

It is problematic (and also embarassing) when The Times announces it will be charging readers for online content and in the same article adds that it “estimates that 85 percent of its online readers will never reach the 20-article ceiling.” Add to this pathetic putting of the foot down the fact that the same article also mentions that come June 30, The Times will let Apple take a 30 percent bite out of its pie of mobile app subscription revenue generated through Apple’s App Store.

You don’t have to be William Randolph Hearst to know that that is not going to purchase a mansion. This laxness in insisting on paying for quality doesn’t generate near enough revenue to even put a dent in the machine that is killing the trade, nor does it enforce the idea that high-quality journalism is something people not only would, but should, pay for.

The words a journalist writes are valuable and require work to obtain and legitimize. Why the Internet made us overlook that fact from day one is beyond me, but I think journalism did this to itself. The shovel that newspapers used to dig their own grave was one of making content online--the same that one paid to read in print—free. It’s as if you were only paying for the paper and ink the words were printed on rather than the hard work and hours the writer put into those words and the valuable information they carried.

Unlike newspapers, the book, movie and music industries have struggled in recent years, but they’ve found a way to circumvent troubles created by technology and the Internet. What makes the struggle a little less harsh for these industries in comparison to that of newspapers is that books, movies and recorded music have never really been up for grabs on the Internet. Not legally, anyway.

You’ll generally never legally get a book for free, whether it’s an e-book or bound book. You’ll also rarely legally even watch a movie for absolutely free online. Recorded music will also never be legally free, but even if it is illegally and freely obtained, that industry has concert revenue to lean back on.

Newspapers are in a significantly more difficult position than those industries, not only financially, but also quality-wise.

Say what you will about books, movies and music these days, but the quality of these mediums hasn’t been as near to obliteration as journalism has been. Rebecca Black and Ark Music Factory, self-publishing firms, and YouTube aside, these mediums are still generally produced with the same quality standards, their biggest issues almost exclusively financial.

Journalism took quite a hit with the coming of technological advances and the Internet that affected its very essence. The journalism that is offered through newspapers, which are contained inside office buildings and employ trained professionals who follow all kinds of journalistic protocol, is being pushed aside by parasitic news sources that pretty much steal the information obtained by the professionals and offers it to readers in a free, more tech savvy and sexy packaging. And everyone allows it.

To me, it’s the equivalent of outsourcing jobs on our own soil. We’re replacing trained journalists who know the ethics of the trade, with people who just happen to have a digital camera and a Twitter account—that’s all it takes to be a news source nowadays, it seems.

Had newspapers fought and kicked from the beginning as hard as the three other industries I mentioned, The Times wouldn’t have to fork over 30 percent of its revenue from mobile app subscriptions to Apple, which hardly needs it. It also wouldn’t have to take such a wavering, almost humiliating loophole-filled stance in order to generate revenue from its readers to pay its people—some of the best writers in the world.

A lot of damage and undermining has been done to print journalism with the coming of the Internet and savvier and sexier, more green news outlets. The damage has been financial, as well as qualitative. But it is not irreversible, at least when it comes to old-fashioned obtainment of news.

Beginning by eliminating the loopholes that allow the majority of online readers’ access to valuable content without paying, and parasitic news sources to steal information with ease, newspapers could regain their power and place in the market, even if they stop the presses and go totally online.

It’s a long road and tough process to get used to by all involved, but it can be done by simple, yet unwavering restrictions to online content. It’s time for newspapers to get tough with their readers, not just for revenue, but also to protect the livelihood of those who pound the pavement to get the news straight from the horse’s mouth, and sometimes risk getting kicked or bit in the process.


Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

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