Mandatory digital subscriptions are now required to access newsworthy information daily for two of the most prolific journalism outlets, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Margaret Valenti writes on the dangers of limiting information via mandatory digital subscription and what that could mean for the future of journalism.

In the past, The New York Times’ online subscriptions were optional and merely included bonus content, there was no limit on how many articles one could access online in a given month. Now, it is four articles for free and then you have to pay a dollar a week for unfettered access to the rest of The New York Times’ articles. The Washington Post’s, whose motto is “democracy dies in darkness,” now requires the same subscription after a certain number of free article views. The Post made the same change after Jeff Bezzos acquired the company, which is ironic considering he is one of the richest men in the world. Sure, digital subscriptions always existed as a way to get bonus content online, but to restrict newsworthy content goes beyond the norm. 

These subscriptions are justified by The Times and The Post by stating that the subscriptions support independent journalism. However, does limiting access to information further degrade the independent journalism they are trying to promote? The publications are two of the most respected in the country, they literally break most of the news you see broadcasted on other sites, famously Watergate (The Washington Post) and The Pentagon Papers (The New York Times). 

They, and other highly respectable journalism outlets, are the primary sources of daily news. Now requiring their audiences to subscribe limits people to needing to access secondary sources that report on what The Times or The Post broke that day. Ultimately, not the best business model for either of those highly respected publications. More to the point, U.S. citizens deserve unfettered access to breaking news and to deny their readers is to restrict information which goes against what journalism fundamentally is. 

Costs of Journalism

One dollar per week equals about fifty two dollars per year, which may not seem hefty for most U.S. citizens but for some fifty dollars makes a significant impact on current and future spending. There is also a catch; for a subscription to The New York Times, this one dollar per week fee only lasts a year. Under this fee, you would pay four dollars every month for the first year. After the first year, they start charging you fifteen dollars every month which amounts to one hundred and eighty dollars per year, a jump by over half of the original price. The Washington Post offers the same deal, except their price jumps up to ten dollars a month after the first year, which amounts to one hundred and twenty dollars per year after the first year. 

Considering that the average family in the U.S. could easily come out of a grocery store having spent well over a hundred dollars, those prices do not seem ridiculous. Digital subscriptions were always optional and ultimately news outlets like The Times and The Post, among others, do not usually make greatly significant profits for their owners. Almost no person gets involved in the journalism industry to make a lot of money. Ads also supplement the costs of journalism and are often a key way that more prominent outlets make money. Donations are also key, but neither ads nor donations entirely support any news outlet in the modern day. 

To many, because of the lack of profits, journalists are a dying breed. For others, the concept of what a journalist is and what responsibilities journalists have are changing as a result of what started with the internet. A lot of journalism in the U.S. is corporate owned because the existing costs require significant financial backing and therefore journalism outlets operate like corporations. 

The question in their minds is not ‘how do we best inform the public?’ Instead, the question becomes ‘how can we make the most money and technically still do our jobs?’ The former is usually secondary, which leads to the firing of many journalists simply to cut costs. Whether you are owned and controlled by a family of publishing tycoons or by Jeff Bezzos, there is a significant cost associated with funding these operations that requires hefty financial backing.

Despite the mandatory subscriptions now implemented by The Times and The Post, many prominent outlets still avoid mandatory digital subscriptions. Without these subscriptions, it is possible that newspapers are largely a thing of the past, which cannot happen. The lack of profit in journalism is a serious problem that needs a solution, but limiting the amount of information the public is allowed to access from some of the U.S.’s most respected journalists is the wrong way to go about it.

Access To Breaking News Is Important

What will happen to journalism is still up for debate, but the lengths outlets are willing to go to stay afloat will remain a problem. Is a mandatory digital subscription really worth the risk of limiting access to information? Is it really necessary to save journalism as we know it?

There certainly is no easy answer, but it seems that limiting access ultimately does a disservice to journalism as a profession. Certainly, journalism will continue to face challenges to its existence for years to come as the world becomes a more challenging, globalized, and hopefully a better place. However, that progress forward cannot come without journalism, without being informed. While the public may take some information for granted, journalists and their employers cannot lest they risk being pushed over in favor of other outlets. 

As digital access to journalism continues to grow and more content surfaces, reliable journalism is more important than ever for the general public. Otherwise, journalism as we know it could change. Sources like The Times and The Post largely stick to the principles of journalism and provide largely unbiased reporting. Losing that would be devastating and allow for other media based sources to become the norm. 

Free, unfettered access to newsworthy information from reputable journalists is important for the nation and the world. As the world moves forward towards new technologies, journalism outlets will need to find a way to keep up with demand, keep themselves afloat without limiting viewership, and still do their jobs of reporting newsworthy facts to the public daily. We cannot risk losing access to breaking news and keeping the public informed. After all, people form opinions based on the information that they read, see, or hear. Removing even one of those sources diminishes our ability to make informed decisions and formulate opinions.

Margaret Valenti

Margaret Valenti is the Editor of Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.