New York Times paywall decision is reason for optimism

By Samuel Charles

Few people go into print journalism expecting to get rich. If they do, they’re either naive or dumb. The industry has never paid well, but its allure captures many doe-eyed college students who yearn to break into the vastly changing field.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times, which has long been considered the gold standard of newspapers, began imposing fees on nonsubscribers who visit its website and read more than 20 articles every month.

The technological revolution has rapidly changed the way the media work, especially on the print side. In the last 10 years, newspapers have folded at alarming rates, all while more college journalism students hope to land jobs upon graduation. It’s a scary time to be a journalism major, but this decision is a sign of hope.

Just because getting a job in journalism—as hard as that may be now—doesn’t pay well, that shouldn’t mean hard-working professionals should have to live paycheck to paycheck. It appears people now entering the field should be a little less scared.

There is no difference between paying for Internet content and paying for the physical copy of the paper. If anything, the online version should cost more because of the amount of extra content that can be included online.

The fees are reasonable, too. The site now charges a basic $15 every month to those who read more than 20 articles per week and do not subscribe to the print edition. That translates to $195 annually. In the long run, that’s not a huge amount of money. And it’s important to remember the fee is only applying to those who do not already have a subscription.

Compared to a magazine subscription this fee may sound ridiculously high. All outlets of print media should be worried about the shift from print to web. But the iPad can serve as a saving grace to magazines in a way it can’t for newspapers, by offering more content through various apps.

Fees and figures are not the important part of the story. What is, though, is the fact that a newspaper of the utmost quality has made the relatively bold decision to charge for online content.

While this is a great idea that may be the start of something bigger, what’s more vital is the way it is received by consumers. As of press time, there have been no riots demanding The New York Times repeal its pay-to-read program.

The Times’ circulation is more than 800,000. That number combined with the number of people who subscribe solely to the Sunday edition brings the total to more than 1.3 million. Being the third-largest newspaper in the country, behind USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, The Times has a lot of power. Many middle-tier papers probably couldn’t pull something off like this because chances are their readership isn’t as large or loyal.

But that’s another reason to be hopeful.

This giant of a publication so steeped in history is embracing the move from print to Web and volunteering itself as a guinea pig in one of the first meaningful experiments of its kind.

This decision alone will not save print media. It appears nothing will. The Internet is no longer the future of journalism, it’s the present. Those who have not and will not adapt are already being phased out.

Websites everywhere, not just media sites, have long searched for a way to generate revenue online. Advertising was often the answer, but it wasn’t a definitive one. But taking a step back—is this really a revolutionary idea? No, not at all. A company is charging consumers for goods and services it provides to them. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

While everyone deserves the opportunity to get access to news, it doesn’t mean it should necessarily be free.

Again, no one goes into journalism to get rich, but the reporters and editors at The New York Times work too hard and proficiently not to be rewarded for their efforts.

This is bigger than The Times asking for more money. This is about journalists doing what they have to do to make a decent living, survive and improve.

Frankly, it’s about time.