After strategizing and debating for the past few years, the New York Times decided to have its readers pay to read its online journalism, beginning March 28.
Frankly, its about time. The setup seems pretty generous: after reading only 20 articles a month, one would get charged, but views through social networks don’t count. Some may think this new experiment is guaranteed to fail, while others may find worth in paying to read the largest metropolitan newspaper in the United States. Still others may argue that this online pay system limits access and affordability. But the real question is: should online journalism be free in the first place?
After all, before the popularity of the Internet in the 90s, print journalism was never free; why should it be in a different format? It shouldn’t, because the value and legitimacy of professional newspapers are at stake.
Journalism is an industry of workers that must be paid. More importantly, newspapers such as the New York Times act as a watchdog on the government and on the world. These crucial factors are being forgotten and undermined with the digital age.
Don’t get me wrong, expressing thoughts through a blog or tweet is liberating and even useful to journalists who value such leads. But beyond each person’s local scope is everything else that needs professional reporting, where news is researched and fact-checked.
With the rise of social networking sites, when people start equating the news that comes from a random blog, Tweet or Facebook newsfeed to a professional newspaper, the professional journalism world becomes devalued.
Like many other newspapers, the Times lost its weekday circulation of one million in the 90s and never recovered. Since then, NYTimes.com has become the most viewed newspaper site in the world. Newspapers have evolved with the changing age through websites and multimedia, so this service should be paid for and not penalized for reforming with the digital age.
According to Jill Abramson, the managing editor of the New York Times, “journalism is very worth paying for. In terms of ensuring [the Times’] future success, it was important to put that to the test.”
Abramson brings up a crucial point. Journalism will have a bleak future with the declining print industry and ongoing, free online news. The online pay system risks losing its high readership, and could have digital advertising – a fourth of the New York Times Company’s advertising revenue – go askew. But it could very well pay off in the long term as its aspiring success could set an example of sustainability for other major newspapers to follow.
It could even bring back the popularity of print newspapers. After all, if news is paid for online, then you might as well have it in a tangible fashion. Some may find this more worth their money.
According to the New York Times, an online pay system from 2005 to 2007 called TimesSelect was experimented with, and after ending it, the viewership of the site nearly doubled. And though some senior executives of the company oppose the currently implemented online pay system, causing much debate, the journalism industry needs to find a pathway toward sustainability. It may be unpopular and slow at first, but this system can preserve and set the norm for online journalism worldwide.
If journalism is to still be valued in the ever progressing digital age, then paying for online journalism is the step all professional newspapers should take. And there is no better place to start than with the most read newspaper site in the world.
Annum Khan is a third-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.