Last post I wrote about my hesitancy to pay for The New York Times, despite being a loyal, regular reader. I’d rather be asked to donate to keep quality journalism publicly available than forced to pay to privately consume it.
In this post I want to touch on another reason why I’m hesitant to pay for the Times. Even if I decided to mentally justify the purchase of an annual NYT subscription as a charitable donation to support quality journalism (assuming a model in which this paid for some/most of the paper to be freely available) I’d still have serious reservations.
Much of the Times’ work fits my definition of core civic journalism, the often expensive reporting that is essential to a democracy. But much of the its work does not.
In addition to its terrific international and political reporting, for instance, the Times has a Style section, a Travel section, a Food section, and plenty of other less essential feature-oriented segments.
Even if I approached a Times subscription as a charitable donation I’d be hard-pressed to justify that “donation”, knowing that some portion of my contribution would pay for those non-essential segments.*
Think of it this way: the disappearance of the Times would be a huge civic loss. The disappearance of the Style section would be no loss at all.
Unless there were some way to feel confident that my dollars were directly subsidizing essential, socially important journalism, I’d be hard-pressed to subscribe out of the goodness of my heart.
*Traditionally the Style section – and the advertising it draws – has subsidized foreign bureaus, investigative reporting, etc. That model worked well for a time. Some might even argue that since these feature segments are popular, I need not worry that they require any subsidy; more likely, one might counter, they’re still subsidizing the quality journalism I’m worried about. Possibly. But I worry that as the current advertising-driven model continues to erode, that arrangement will end. And all the incumbents who work for those socially unimportant portions of the paper will fight tooth-and-nail to secure an equal share of whatever revenue the Times can find, my subscription included.