Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Comments on the Times becoming a for-pay site in September and other issues

We're doing two entries on comments on the Times. The one tonight will revolve around the Times becoming a for pay site in September and other issues. Tomorrow night, we'll deal with responses to Okrent and the entry on him.

Before we address the move to a for-pay site, let's start with the other issues.

Last week, when discussing the the Times recent panel and the delivery of the physical paper, it was noted that members had found Gail Collins to be the most responsive to readers. Since that was posted, Sam, Charlie, ??? and Martha have wanted to add to that. So that's four more notes of praise for Collins who does respond to Times' readers. I doubt she'll get any credit for that but we will note here because they and the other members all note that rather their remarks praising something or offering negative criticism, Collins has responded to e-mails.

One visitor also responded on that and, in doing so, quoted some comments on Collins which they proceeded to rip me apart for. Yes, I do "have a lot of nerve;" however, you're referring to comments that never appeared here and weren't written by me. They also did not appear at The Third Estate Sunday Review. I note that because I realize that it can be confusing to some people which pieces I help out on over there. In their "note to the readers" each edition, The Third Estate Sunday Review notes who added input to each article. They work as a collective and avoid individual credit. (Which is why Ava and I didn't want individual credit on the TV reviews. Although it has allowed some Tom Welling, John Stamos and Nick Lachey fans to drop their "you alls." They now begin their e-mails with the c-word and I don't mean "congratulations." If Adam Nagourney ever wants to read a truly threateninge-mail, he should write an article suggesting that Smallville isn't one of the great masterpieces of our times.) But if Rebecca writes something at her site, or Folding Star or Betty or Mooki, you'd be better off taking up with them whatever issue you have with what they wrote.

The visitor was outraged by remarks at one of the last four sites. While all are community members, they are responsible for what they write. They do not take dictation from me. I may see something on the Senate, for instance, and e-mail Folding Star a head's up. (For those e-mailing asking about Folding Star's posts, the semester just ended and FS is regrouping.)
If I see anything on The New Republic, I will e-mail or call Rebecca to pass it on because that's something she cares about. With regards to CodePink's Stop The Next War Now, I did talk up Dallas' entry that appeared here because I thought it was useful and I believe in the book (and in CodePink). Even then, I did not twist arms or even say, "You will post this!" (Or for that matter, "Could you please post this?" I mentioned it to brag on Dallas. The Third Estate Sunday Review was preparing their edition and Betty, Rebecca and Folding Star were all assisting.)

So the visitor who felt the need to launch into a 10K e-mail of how dare I write what I wrote about Gail Collins would be better served addressing that to the person who wrote it. I didn't write it and it didn't appear here. On the plus side, Collins has a very strong supporter, if not a very informed one.

I am responsible for what I write here. I'll take responsibilities for any entry I add input to over at The Third Estate Sunday Review. (And the note to the readers will often note that I excuse myself from certain entries.) But I'm not responsible for what Rebecca, Folding Star, Mooki or Betty write.

Gina, Dallas and Pat all e-mailed to note that since the delivery entry appeared, their paper delivery has improved. I doubt that has much to do with our entry here but it's good to know and if anyone else has seen an improvement, e-mail in and we'll note that as well. (Me, I still have an edition that has a page three in the main section which is unreadable on most days.)

A large number of visitors e-mailed regarding the for-pay issue. 60 people repeated Frank Rich's remarks to Salon (none of the sixty gave him credit -- even the ones who repeated word for word which is also known, politely, as "quoting"). For anyone who missed the Salon article and doesn't have time to read it (or the desire to go to links) from Farhad Manjoo's "Pundits for money (and news for free):"

Times columnist Frank Rich agreed. "If you believe, as I do, that basically there is going to come a time when people are not going to read print newspapers anymore, someone has to figure out a way to get income for news gathering," Rich told Salon. "Because who's going to pay for that bureau in Iraq?" Rich said that judging from the kind of e-mail he gets in response to his columns, he guesses that there will be some people -- people who don't regularly read the Times -- who will no longer read his work once it's not free. But many of his readers, he said, are Times readers -- they subscribe to the print paper, or they are interested enough in the paper to pay $50 for it online.
"I think that every newspaper is feeling economic pressures, and so this is an attempt by the Times to exert some leadership, in some ways to stick a toe into this," Rich said. "It might solve some of the problems" -- of declining print circulation, which afflicts generally all major newspapers in the country -- "without being draconian about it."

Please note, only two e-mailers cribbing from Rich (without credit) felt the need to include the final phrase ("without being draconian about it").

Rich is entitled to his opinion. I disagree. The money from subscriptions and individual sales is nothing compared to the money taken in by ad sales.

I don't understand the emphasis in the discussion on the op-eds. We've noted in past entries that every article that appears in the Times does not appear online. This has especially been true with regards to the business section. But the policy change will not just effect the op-eds. More importantly, the columnists (with the exception of Rich) appear elsewhere. If your week's not a week without Maureen Dowd, unless the Times insists that other papers become for pay sites, you'll still be able to read Dowd. Her column is carried by a number of papers.

Members can note whatever they want here but I don't note the op-eds here. I don't do an entry saying, "As Paul Krugman says today . . ." (I was hoping a member would note Krugman's column Monday but it didn't happen.) If that was a primary focus here, I would've noted yesterday that the columns will be the easiest things to continue to read. With a news article, you're going to have to track down a paper that's carrying it online -- at random. Washington's The News Tribune, for instance, carries Dowd's op-eds. Common Dreams carries Bob Herbert and Krugman.

Now the Times may change their policy with regards to papers carrying their syndicated columns (I think that would be risky -- attempting to tell other papers what they could and couldn't display) and you might be behind a day or two on what Dowd did or didn't write. But since the statement didn't note that there would be any syndication changes (or for that matter changes to the International Herald Tribune -- where Frank Rich has been carried in the past), op-eds really weren't a concern. Yes, they were mentioned in the statement. But as the statement read, you won't be able to access them at the Times without paying.

To use Thomas Friedman (because so many members have complained over time about how he's in their local paper but Krugman, Dowd or Herbert aren't), I really don't think all the papers currently carrying his musings will be pleased if the Times tells them, "Look, we know you display all content on your site for free, but we want you to stop doing that with Friedman." The Times may find that certain papers balk at that. (Before starting this entry I spoke with an editorial page editor of one paper who stated if that happens they'll drop the Times columnists they carry.) So I'm not sure what the panic is over columnists. You just need to bookmark a paper that carries whichever columnist and you can check in there.

But I disagree with Rich's opinion. The Times does maintain a large international division. But advertisements bring in more money than sales of the paper. The circulation matters because that's how the advertising rate is set. I was surprised to hear Rich offer that opinion because I've never heard that offered by anyone in the paper business (from friends to my grandfather).

Dell's computer ads mean a lot more to the paper than anyone's monthly subsciption in terms of monies coming into the paper. Furthermore, as Susan and others have noted, if you read the entertainment section and the business section of late you get some "curious information." Susan has noted that the kissing of David Geffen's ass came as the paper ran an article about the possible loss of ad revenues from studios placing movie ads and wondered if there was a correlation. The international news divisions aren't being paid off your subscription or individual purchases.

Every drop in the bucket helps (to reference an old Sally Stuthers commercial) but I was honestly surprised to read Frank Rich offering that reasoning. As Salon noted in their article, they've managed quite well by offering subscriptions or day passes (for the day pass, you have to view a commerical online). Certainly alternative weeklies and other free papers exist on advertising alone. The circulation figure sets the ad rate, but most papers are lucky to break even on the physical expenses of printing up an edition.

Marcia rightly notes the Wall St. Journal's "fall from grace" in terms of influence once they went to a for-pay site. She thinks, "It's a huge mistake and that's all I have to say on the issue that hasn't been said already here."

Zach feels the paper has demonstrated how out of touch they are. "They never made the advocacy ads available online. That was a huge mistake because groups taking those full page ads out would probably pay even more if they'd been available online. They could have thought about that."

Brenda: When you go from a site that is welcome to all to one that you have to pay to access, you're losing a great deal of influence.

Trina: I actually think it's keeping with the paper's print image. They come off as exclusive and insulated and this is just another way for them to boost that image. I still think it's a mistake.

Wally: So if I'm paying to view online, do I get my money back when [David] Sanger or [Judith] Miller churns out administration propaganda? If another Jayson Blair comes along and the Times wants to put on their hair shirt, do I also get a refund?

In answer to that, unless something were to change, no. Amidst the apologies (the days and days of apologies and the many inches wasted covering the Blair story), the Times never offered any rebate for faulty information they carried.

As for Miller, when the paper itself can't even name her Iraq writings as a problem (the mea culpa didn't name individual reporters), I don't imagine they'd offer up rebates for any other propaganda or bad reporting passed off as news.

Lloyd: Bonehead of the year award goes to The Times.

Trevor: The paper's not worth paying for.

An e-mailer whose initials are KD is happy with the change because she hopes it will lead to an improvement in the quality of reporting coming from the paper. She hopes that it will lead to stories being updated regularly (as opposed to them going to bed once the print edition is set). She also hopes that it will lead to less of a reliance on the Associated Press (whom she notes never reported on the Downing memo -- unless I'm missing something, I skipped this Sunday's Week in Review, only Paul Krugman, in his op-ed, has noted the Downing memo). (The Washington Post and the L.A. Times have reported on the memo.) She notes that she is on disability and is happy to pay for the paper. She also notes her support for BuzzFlash and offers that a dollar from every reader to BuzzFlash each year could work wonders. (On that I'll add, you can donate money to BuzzFlash. You don't have to buy a premium. You can do a one time donation or you can set up a monthly donation.)

An e-mailer who also didn't request to be quoted had an opinion worth summarizing. (And I would've quoted her or "KD" above had either noted that they wanted to be quoted. Again, that's the policy, note that you want to be quoted.) CL feels that for most papers, the op-eds are at odds with the reporting which makes this not an issue of greed but one of shutting down dissenting voices.

KD and CL wrote elequently and I'd prefer to print their words instead of my attempt at a summary. They argue their points strongly. As Shirley has pointed out, after anyone e-mails the site, an automated reply goes out which goes over the policy for being quoted. If someone's confused about the policy when they write, the automated reply is clear. All anyone has to do is quickly reply to that "quote me" or "quote me from the second paragraph" or whatever.

We reached over 1500 e-mails today. (I did try to keep track but math's not my strong suit and in the last hour of reading the e-mails I realized I'd stopped keeping the running tally.)

Of those from members who didn't want to be quoted, no one felt it was a smart move on the Times part to move towards a for-pay site.

Lynda, who did give permission to be quoted, summed up some of the things that many members who didn't wish to be quoted noted in their e-mails.

Lynda: The Times so frequently just flat out sucks. Let's not kid ourselves. But let's also be aware that on many days, it's the only game in town. At it's worst, it still offers more than any other ten papers combined. And whatever happened to The Guardian's talk of doing a United States paper? Of what we have in this country, The Times is the best. So it's painful to me that they're about to down size their reach in their desire to squeeze out a few more pennies. I also think that they're something they haven't considered which is that a lot of subscribers may think, "Well if it's all available online, why don't I stop paying and just start getting it offline?" You're looking at paying for the full year what costs you a month to get in the print copy. I have an aunt who gives out subscriptions to The Times to a nephew and niece (I get clothing because I'm "smart enough to know you need the paper, honey"). My aunt's retired and I have to wonder if she might not consider, once the change takes place, just giving them online subscriptions? I think The Times isn't considering that the new option may result in some current subscribers reconsidering their options.

Cedric: Let's go into the land of make believe. NYT gets a story next year that's the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers. To get props for breaking the story and to do a solid for the public, they make it available online for free. How many people do they think will even notice after web visitors have already gotten used to the fact that only some stories are available online? They're about to go from arenas to club dates. They kid if they think this won't effect both the way they're seen and their reach.

Maria notes that teaches high school and how she thinks this will impact.

Maria: Currently, a number of my students are going online to the Times to get news. Like Wally noted of his class in Florida, my kids don't trust the networks to give them the news they need. If this about teaching a new generation reading habits, is the Times going to make an allowance for educational institutes? Once the change happens, I can promise you that the students who are going to the Times online aren't going to be subscribing. They'll just replace the Times with another outlet. Currently, the model allows students to go through the paper and to make it a part of their day. This may lead to subscribers as they grow older and I have two former students who just finished their first year in college that started subscribing as a result of the exposure to the Times as a resource in my classes. If there's not going to be an exception for schools, the Times is going to be useless to me as an educator. It'll be a paper from another city that's not read in any form. I'll find another paper for the students to use as a resource if there's no exception made for education institutes. For ten years now, I've worked to make sure my students follow current events. It's often been a huge struggle and this is usually around the time of the year that I tell myself how it was worth it. In spring of 2004, I saw a change where I didn't have to coax because the students were honestly interested. This fall, there was no persuading on my part. It has been the easiest year in terms of current events and getting students to follow them because they're already interested. The war has done that, the Bully Boy has done that. As the opposition to the war increased among the young people, their interest in what's going on did as well. I'm really proud of them and aware that very few news stories have noted how strong the opposition is among the young today. If no exception is made for educational institutions, I will be steering my students to the Washington Post this fall. Contrary to the popular myth, young kids are not tuning out from the world around them. I wonder how much research the decision makers at the Times did before announcing their policy change.

Liang: I want to use this opportune time to suggest once again that The Christian Science Montior is a solid paper and one more worthy of following than The New York Times. I'm tossing that out to members and hope that if others feel the same the focus here can change.

In response to Liang's suggestion, the two days we took a break from the Times resulted in e-mails of dismay. As she points out, this development may change member's opinions. If that is the case, please advise.

Gore Vidal Is God: Greed has triumphed yet again at the all mighty Times. At what cost? They've destroyed their reach but does anyone really think that they honestly care about the readers beyond a certain income bracket? The change is perfectly in keeping with the mission of the paper. The masses have never been their intended audiences and the paper has no doubt grown tired of readers responses and of critiques from bloggers. The Times always intended to be read by a certain set and this is there way of ensuring that.

Susan: If the paper was worth reading, I might be willing to pay for online content. I already get the physical paper and can usually thumb through it quickly. I know to avoid [Juan] Forero and others in the main section but as someone who cares about music there's nothing in the paper for me. The concert reviews and the CD reviews are disappointing to put it mildly. When they profile a recording artist it's more likely to be someone not worth profiling (Donna Summer) than someone who actually has something to say. The panel didn't address that, the announced change doesn't address that. The attempts to cover Hollywood have only further eroded anything worth reading about music. How hard is it for the paper to get someone who passionately cares about music to write about it? I never believe that I'm reading any music article or review written by a person who is passionate. They are middle-of-the-road, dampened features. Kat could toss off any of the mild mannered reviews they offer while talking on a cell phone and making an ATM transaction. When will the paper address the issue of bad writing?

Susan asked that her comments be passed on to Kat so I called Kat to read her the e-mail.

Kat: Thank you, Susan for your kind words. It may have been in this Sunday's paper but I'm thinking it was Tuesday when they reviewed some idiot country musician, Squawk and Jaw. The review of his latest album demonstrated all that is wrong with the music reviews today. For several paragraphs, I'm thinking it was the first three, they felt the need to bring you up to date on who Squawk and Jaw was. It was a check list and nothing more. It created a mood since it bordered on editorial but as soon as it was time to get to the new album itself, the tone and voice of the piece went right out the window. The person writing the review had nothing to say about the album itself and that section, which was smaller than the editorial, read like they'd already lost interest. If you're not passionate about music, you shouldn't be allowed to write about it. If you think you can fall the formula of going "historical" and then at the end of the review noting a song or two, you've got nothing to say and if you don't have the self-respect to step down, you should be fired. These type of reviews are killing the music industry. They're bad writing churned out by people who have little to offer. Editors should be reading over those reviews and sending them back. When the tone suddenly shifts as the album in question is suddenly discussed, they should circle those paragraphs in red and ask, "What happened? Why the tonal shift?" At the Times it might be part of the "restraint" that the paper prides itself on.
You don't see that in the play reviews, you don't see that in the movie reviews. Somewhere, someone got the idea that it was okay for the music section. It's embarrassing and until a panel wants to address that, it's all bulls**t. They wouldn't even run a dining review that was written so poorly. But you have to realize that the editors are even more out of the loop than are the people writing this crap which is why the Times makes more factual errors in their music articles than in any other. Their refusal to address those errors, whether it's annointing Joe Levy the "music editor" of Rolling Stone or acting as though SoundScan and Billboard are equivalent, shows a disdain for music. I honestly wish they'd just stop covering it because their
half-assed approach kills enthusiasm for music. In other sections you can find problems but only in the music pieces can you find a consistent disdain.

Rob: The paper got it together for the tsunami. They haven't managed it since. If they'd used that as a starting point to return to real reporting and strong writing, I wouldn't care but now they're trying to sell readers a lemon and I suspect that they'll be a lot of unsold cars clogging up their lot.

Marci: If bad reporting didn't kill off the paper, maybe this will?

Joey had a similar thought and composed the obit for the Times.

Joey: Here lies The New York Times. And lies and lies and lies. This time without a byline from Judy Miller. Offering all the "news" of a 20/20 episode The Times saw itself as a premium cable channel. They were mistaken and after becoming nothing more than a regional paper, The Times passed away with little fanfare or notice.

Tomorrow we'll do an entry with comments regarding Okrent and the entry on him.

For members who e-mailed and didn't want to be quoted, there's nothing wrong with that. You can always share your opinion and they do effect the community. But, as most people know, there was one "visitor" not all that long ago who exploded elsewhere about how he was being shut out because neither of his two e-mails had been quoted. He hadn't asked to be quoted.
I was considering doing a note here once a week reviewing the policy on being quoted. Then Shirley noticed that the policy for qutoing is noted in an automated e-mail that goes out to everyone who writes in.

I'll go off topic with something that really belongs in tomorrow's entry but there was a bit of panic on the part of some who read the Okrent entry and came across the sentence noting that, as Wally has pointed out, the actual policy is that you're confidential until you turn around lie.
(Wally pays more attention to what goes up here than I do.) That comment went in last night before I saved to draft and I honestly meant to take it out when I started working on it this morning. I failed to do that because I was rushing.

There are e-mails from people that go beyond what's allowed by the guidelines of the institutions they work at. (We're obviously focusing on one institution -- gee, which one?) (The Times if my humor was missed.) No, you're not going to be outed. Those who have written to clarify points (such as not being responsible for what made the front page or not being responsible for a statement or paragraph, etc.) or those who just pass on gossip (and we've not repeated gossip at this site from those e-mails -- but geez, if you're going to go into so many topics in your e-mails can someone please give an update on Love in the Green Zone already? That remains the only topic that doesn't get gossiped about in e-mails).

I was bothered by the dismissal of Bob Somerby by certain individuals in the CJR article. (And still am.) I was also angry with Okrent (obviously from the piece) and the shine on. But for those who are worried, here's a suggestion, "No comment."

As those writing from the Times know already, they don't get a personal reply. (The only journalists who get personal replies are the ones who have been members of the community and P.J. I don't have time for a reply tonight but I will note your catch tomorrow and am sorry that I missed it myself.) Members of the Times aren't members of the community. They may be nice people (and one is an incredible e-mailer) but as noted here before, if I'm trading e-mails with you, I would question my objectivity.

You or the paper you work for are critiqued here and you're certainly allowed to respond in any manner you desire. I'll read it (and won't try to sick Okrent on you). There are valid points that are raised in some e-mails. (And there may be valid points raised that I don't see as valid, as always I could be wrong and often am.)

But since several of you did wonder about that, I was pissed and stopped the entry both because of that and because I was tired. I had meant to eliminate that sentence before posting because I knew how some would read that. My apologies to you for any panic that caused.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.