Wednesday , April 24 2024
This is a tale of two papers, one moving forward and one backward, one adapting and one retreating.

Newspapers: Adapt or Be Left Behind

To: The Mainstream News Media
From: A former reporter/news junkie
Re: Responding to the Internet

OK, now that I’ve addressed the excited mood in the news media post-Katrina it’s time for a lesson.

This is a tale of two newspapers, one moving forward and one moving backward, one adapting and one retreating.

The Washington Post has been making long-term plans for the future, becoming a more democratic medium and taking steps to increase its base of readers. In recent weeks the Post has proven once again that it embraces changes brought about by the digital age.

In contrast, The New York Times is making stupid short-sighted decisions – namely, TimesSelect – that seem to ignore the reality of the Internet and how it is changing culture.

The Washington Post has made arrangements with bloggers to stream their items to the newspaper’s Internet site. The newspaper has promoted a reporter to the new post of continuous news editor to ensure the Web site is up-to-date. In fact, if you click on this link to the promotion story you get a sample of what I’m talking about with links to blogs talking about the article.

Now let’s say you decided you wanted to read the latest columns in The New York Times by Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman or – God knows why – John Tierney. All you have to do is click here, and pick a columnist. And what do you get? This message: “To continue reading this article, you must be a subscriber to TimesSelect. Log in now. If you have already enrolled in TimesSelect, the site may not be recognizing you correctly. Please click here to reset your sign in information. If you continue to have a problem, check our FAQ.”

So not only does the Times expect you to “select” to pay to read content you can probably get elsewhere for free but those suckers who have paid are not even being properly recognized by the software.

Now there are three questions it seems to me:
– If you do want to read The New York Times content but don’t “select” to pay to do so, are there ways around the wall? Sure. This new Internet site, Never Pay Retail has been established for the express purpose of providing this content free of charge.
– Is the Times content really worth this extra effort? Will readers navigate the system and pay fees to read opinions which may be better expressed – in an easier, free way – elsewhere on the Web?

Let me answer by saying that I used to read Salon daily. It had some of the sharpest, best writing around. Then it started to charge for content, similar to what the Times is doing. Long story short I rarely go to Salon any more. My point? A good way to decrease readership and deter potential readers is to make this move.

How inane is the Times’ decisions?
Let me list just four ways, with the help of Jay Rosen’s consistently excellent PressThink:
1)This is a good way to guarantee future generations of potential Times readers will instead choose other news sources.
2)The change is going to make people assess whether the opinions expressed by the Times columnists are really worth that much more than other sources. And I think in many cases the Times is going to be found wanting.
3)This makes the Times come off as more elitist, not exactly the direction the Times – already stereotyped as too white and upperclass – should be moving.
4) The Times is totally dismissing what I call the blog factor, since bloggers – not to mention this site – will have trouble linking readers to Times columnists. For an excellent in-depth look at that topic read this piece by chez Nadezhda
Feel free to add – in the responses below – to this list.

All newspapers – especially The New York Times – can learn a great deal about how to adjust to the Internet from The Washington Post.
Let’s hope they are paying attention and get their heads out of the sand.

Class dismissed.

Until next time,
I remain your intrepid media observer & analyst
Scott Butki

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been working in mental health for the last ten years. He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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