Quality online news comes with a pricetag
For the international news media, the last couple months have been fantastic. Among unrest in the Middle East, revolution in North Africa, the continuing disaster coverage in Japan, and NATO military intervention in Libya, the stream of breaking news has been unending. Large, bold headlines have continuously dominated the CNN and New York Times homepages. As a result of these high-profile international stories, a story has flown under the radar: the announcement of the New York Times’ web billing plan. Readers and observers have been anticipating the announcement for months, since the Times is a standard that many other publications are likely to follow.
Despite my reluctance to pay for access to a product that is currently free to everyone, I am convinced that the new business model is the right decision for the Times, for the journalism industry, and for the public as a whole.
Simply put, the Times’ paywall will restrict non-subscribers to 20 articles per month while subscriptions will range from $15 to $35 per month, depending on the other packaged products, such as a smartphone app. This business model is similar to the one used successfully by the Financial Times.
There has, of course, been an outcry against the introduction of a fee system. Why, critics ask, should readers bother to pay for Times articles when there are plenty of bloggers and journalists posting their thoughts for free?
That question is precisely the reason why the Times should be charging for its product, no matter the medium. Would one rather read an ill-written and likely erroneous blog, or a well-written, clear and concise article from a reliable source?
The answer seems obvious: editorial expertise and reliable sources are worth paying for. The world-changing events of the last month underscore the need for a strong revenue stream. When there is revolution in Africa, the public needs the Times and its fellow professional publications to have the money to deploy experienced reporters and photographers. No solitary blogger in the United States can have the same resources of depth of knowledge as a news outlet with bureaus around the world.
It might be easy on a slow news day to wonder what justifies paying for a New York Times subscription every month. But when the world is in chaos, professional and well-funded journalists help us to sort it out.
That is a service worth paying for.