Saturday, November 29, 2008

Law prof’s requiem for his NY Times subscription

Kenneth Anderson’s a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law. He also blogs at the Law of War and Just War Theory Blog.

Anderson recently asked himself: Why pay $600 a year for home delivery for a partisan opinion magazine available free on the web?

After decades of being subscribers, my wife and I are giving up our home delivery of the New York Times here in Washington, D.C. We’re going online for free, like everyone else we know.

Pajamas Media readers must be wondering how it could have occurred to anyone, especially outside of New York City, to subscribe in the first place, not why we would have decided to give it up. It’s expensive: $56 a month, which is over $600 a year in what are soon to be scarcer post-tax Obama dollars. And it’s biased, obviously; zero argument there.

If it falls financially for some reason I can’t yet foresee on account of the sheer mendacity of its front-page performance this election cycle, I’ll shed no tears and lift a glass to karma.

But cut us a break — my wife is a native New Yorker, I lived there forever, and even after a dozen years in D.C., the Times is still the hometown paper. And anyway, one of the asymmetries between right and left intellectuals (I’m a center-right law professor lost in a sea of left-wingers for whom Obama is savior but still scarcely radical enough) is that the right, being an intellectual counterculture, reads across the political spectrum.

It has to, merely to be part of the conversation. Whereas the left? I doubt most of my colleagues have heard, for example, of the Weekly Standard, let alone read it. Pajamas Media? Forget about it.

No, the fundamental question is not whether one should read the New York Times. The question is whether (forgetting about the incontrovertible fact that it’s expensive on paper and free online) one should ever pay for it.

And that is a question about the New York Times’ evolving business model — the question interacts with the politicization and deep partisanship of the paper, but is still separate from it. What exactly are subscribers paying for? …

Anderson goes on to provide a penetrating, informed synopsis of the Times’ development since the early 1990s. Most interesting to me was his explanation of how the Times’ readership has influenced the paper’s development into a magazine in which facts take second place to opinions that fit its readers views.

Anderson concludes - - -

Magazines are wonderful things. But there is a difference between them and daily newspapers.

The newspaper says “this happened today,” and frankly that’s enough to justify the paper’s existence.

The magazine, by definition, is an analysis and commentary on events — and for that reason, magazines are weekly or monthly events, not dailies. At their best, magazines are informed opinion — each of those a separate requirement.

But they are always a matter of opinion. And that’s what the Times showcased on its front pages. A magazine of opinion.

The problem, from a business model standpoint, is that the Times is not a magazine. It is a daily. In order to price its product as the daily news, however, the Times has very deliberately asserted that its opinions are actually facts.

We Pajamas Media reader/media critics tend to think of that as a political move, and it is. But it is also firmly located in the business model of a newspaper turning itself into a magazine — but trying to grapple with daily publication. It promotes itself as offering the facts, and charges for its front-page opinions as thought they were facts.

Anderson’s entire post’s here.

Be sure to read the comments at least as far down as the fellow who speaks up for the quality of the Times’ crossword puzzles.


Anonymous said...

Newspapers: "Yesterday's news tomorrow!"

Walter Abbott