27 March 2011

A New Day at The New York Times

24 hours and counting.
On Monday afternoon at 2pm EST, The New York Times website will institute a paywall. They explained it all in a recent "Letter to Readers." They will start requiring readers to pay for their product. And journalists everywhere will breathe quietly, listening to hear the response.
For about ten years now, The New York Times and a lot of other news outlets that used to make a living by selling subscription service have been giving their work away for free. They tried to attract site traffic and utilize it. They tried to get by putting up advertisements. They've done small ads on the side. They've done huge pop-ups that scroll down to fill the page. They've put up video commercials before multi-media presentations. Somewhere in here, the bottom fell out of the classified section. It was killed by craigslist.org.
The paper also had huge cut-backs. They let a lot of incredibly talented people go. They hired writers and reporters who professionally were at what should have still been the learning part of their careers instead of being hard-headed scrappers at the peak of their careers. I give those newbies a lot of credit. The quality didn't drop off as consistently as say, The Washington Post, which is an embarrassing shadow of what it used to be. But the losses are noted. And they were emblematic of a situation in newsrooms everywhere. Some newspapers didn't survive.
So March 28 begins a new era. When you think about whether to begin paying for your news, keep in mind that you paid for it until a few years ago. Your parents paid for it. And in this case, you get what you pay for.
I remember about 18 months ago, saying to a news executive "What I don't get is... since it's obvious the newspapers and Associated Press can't make it without charging, why don't they put up the paywall and stop giving it away for free?"
He said, "It's too late, Marti. They've already jumped off the cliff." (Sidenote: non-creative thinkers excel in management except when creative solutions and strategies are needed. Exception: journalism.)
At the time, I shook my head and said "Just because you jump off the cliff doesn't mean you can't go to the hospital."
Congratulations NYTimes.com. I'll come to your blood drive.

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