The New York Times announced yesterday that it will begin charging for content on its website. After 20 articles have been read by any user within a month, that user will be required to purchase a $15 a month access fee, or forgo the “Grey Lady,” online at least. (Subscribers to the paper will have still have unlimited free access to the digital version.)
For bloggers like me, who rely on hundreds of on-line sources for my ethics commentary, the new Times plan poses an ethical dilemma. I do not think the Times’ new system is unreasonable, and I know newspapers are struggling for their lives. (I don’t think this approach will save them, but that is neither here nor there.) The paper, like many newspapers, creates valuable and unique content and this costs money; we have no right to demand that we get it free of charge, though I am sure many web warriors will be up in arms over this. And the Times is one of the very best sources, generating essays and articles every day that other publications only cover after the Times has led the way.
On the other hand, my field, which is the broadest of any of the ethics sites on the Web, requires that I use many sources, and I certainly can’t afford to pay for all of them. The $180 I would pay for a year of the Times will be a net loss: if Ethics Alarms produces any income, I can’t identify it.
I won’t compromise the quality and mission of this site, and if paying for the Times is the only way to avoid doing that, I’ll pay. In the meantime, though, I’m going to see if I really need aricles in the Times more than 20 times a month. If given a choice between the Times’ version of a story and the Des Moines Register’s, I may choose the latter; I may also use stories on other sites that quote the Times, rather than using the Times story directly. If I have a hard copy from the newsstand, as I often do, I may cite the Times without including a link. Yes, that’s less convenient for Ethics Alarms readers, but you’ll only be able to use 20 links a month without being charged too.
I have anticipated changes like this, and there will be more of them, I’m sure. I want the Times to survive, and I want them to be justly compensated for their work. Unfortunately, I may have to use less of it as a result, and in so doing so, I will indirectly hurt the Times. A link to the Times in a story here may lead a thousand or more readers to the Times website: will it really be worth $15 to the Times to risk losing all those potential readers? Time will tell.
I have to decide what’s right, both for Ethics Alarms and the news organizations that make it possible. Like many ethics decisions, it is a balancing act, and at this moment, I am not certain what the proper balance should be.
If you are, for God’s sake tell me.