The New York Times is not worth paying for

The journalism industry is grinding its way through a nasty transition, mostly because the revenue side has fallen apart. Newspapers traditionally have made their money off of ads, with the reader subscriptions often just to support delivery services or as a minimal revenue source. (This is how 'free' print newspapers and broadcast TV can be 'free': they are so chock full of paid ads.)

But the ads have disappeared as advertisers have moved to radio, TV, the internet and even video games. The internet has made newspapers as a delivery channel exceedingly inferior. The only way for them to survive is as websites. But the ad revenue on websites has taken a huge hit because of the recession and because advertisers are figuring out that ads are easy to ignore on the web.

To save itself financially, the New York Times will charge readers for access to its content. It did this with disastrous results half a decade ago, but again, it feels like it has no choice. Back then, I was one of those who paid for TimeSelect. But the times have changed.

First, there are plenty of other free news sources that seemed to have found a working business model: Huffington Post and Politico come to mind. I think it is because they don't have the expenses of a local newspaper (local, state, regional, etc.). In the global environment for global news, the NYT just doesn't compare to free sources, RSS feeds, etc.

Second, the quality of news has sunk to a point where it is not worth paying for. Journalists have an exceedingly high opinion of themselves that is not based on how well they do their jobs, but simply based on their role in society as 'the press.' This has clearly been the case at the New York Times, with its deplorable reporting about WMD in Iraq, it's phoned in, stenographic political reporting, etc. Money is not draining out of journalism solely because of the internet, but because of low quality.

Yes, if this sounds a bit like the hubris of bankers who expect to be paid because they are bankers, not because they are good at what they do, bingo. The difference is that bankers, so far, have an excellent business model. Oh, and the bankers don't get any of my money either, except for the one bank that bought my mortgage, which I had no choice over.

What should the Times do instead, you ask, you snarky reader? Half the Op-ed columnists are big enough properties in their own right that they could make it as media properties, with speaking fees and book royalties allowing them to 'blog' to readers for free. Tom Friedman, Nick Kristof, Paul Krugman and David Brooks would probably be fine. Frank Rich, Gail Collins, Ross Douhat, Bob Hebert and Maureen Dowd probably don't have the media presence to pull it off. As for the NYT itself, well, like GM, it is probably headed for a slow death regardless of what it does. And it will do so without my financial support.

No comments: