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Editorial: New York Times to lead news industry by courageously charging for content

Jan. 29, 2010

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Claire Taylor | Lariat Staff

The New York Times, arguably the best newspaper in the industry, made the much-needed decision on Jan. 20 that it would begin charging online users for the content they wish to consume.

According to, ironically, The New York Times, the system will not be instated until 2011 and many of the major aspects of the plan have yet to be confirmed.

Some aspects of the future plan have been made clear. Those who already have subscriptions to the print version of the newspaper will not be required to pay any additional fees to read online content. This includes those readers who only subscribe to the Sunday edition.

Online consumers will be allowed to view a currently indefinite number of articles per month before being prompted to pay an also undetermined fee.

There is only one proper response: It is about time.

"I think we should have done it years ago," Deputy National News Editor David Firestone told the New York Times. "As painful as it will be at the beginning, we have to get past the notion that high-quality news comes free."

Firestone is exactly right.

The idea of "free news" has run rampant through our society.

For years The Times, along with nearly every other newspaper, has run a free-of-charge Web site that is being supported by the ever-shrinking revenues from print news. Sooner or later it has to stop.

Our society has clearly and fervently demonstrated to the media industry that consuming news online is becoming the preferred method.

NYTimes.com has more than 17 million readers a month in the United States. Compare that to its meek and dwindling 830,000 print subscribers and it becomes evident the tide has turned -- we are an Internet-based culture.

"This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that's going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about," Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said. Sulzberger is the Times Company chairman and publisher of the prominent newspaper. "We can't get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right."

This isn't the first time the Times has charged for its online content.

In 2005 the Times launched TimesSelect, a system that charged members $7.95 a month to read special articles that were not available to the public. A yearly subscription was available for $49.95. Only two years after that attempt, the Times announced it was ceasing the TimesSelect service.

The newly proposed system, even in its infantile stage, is promising.

The new system will capitalize on the newspaper's loyal readers while not affecting the millions of occasional users that visit the site.

The Times has provided ample time for many to think about the future of journalism. The Lariat thanks the Times for taking the first of many steps toward a business model that may finally clear the despair and uneasiness from newsrooms across the nation. The Times' decision affects not only how the public consumes news, but also the career paths of budding journalists. The newspaper industry is not dying -- it is changing. The way people consume news will not always be from a broadsheet paper that fades as the days go by.

The New York Times' shift from a free Web site could benefit the entire news industry. If the innovative system shows signs of success after its launch in 2011, many papers could follow suit. As a figurehead for American journalism, the Times could be the pebble in the pond that starts the necessary and inevitable trend of payment for online content.

Journalism has hit the fault line of the technological age. The industry as a whole must leap toward the Internet with hope and optimism.

This shift will not be an easy one for readers or writers -- but it must be done.