For years, I’ve been a freeloader. I’ve read the New York Times online (tech and opinion pages especially) and haven’t paid a dime. I was annoyed when the Times adopted a paywall that let me read only ten articles for free each month.
Recently I’ve been thinking about an important decision coming up for an organization to which I belong, and something occurred to me: the dues I pay to the organization do not benefit me so much as they benefit the larger purpose of the organization—making it possible to do its work that I support.
As a legal professional, it pains me when people in my community do not understand basic things about how the legal system works. As a citizen, it pains me when people in the nation do not understand the difference between facts and opinion (see, for example, the alleged debate over climate change).
We attorneys can’t clear up a lay person’s misunderstanding about how the legal system works in two minutes, nor can climate change scientists clear up misunderstandings related to that issue in a short time. Many things in our world today are more complicated than ideas explainable on a bumper sticker.
Good journalism helps explain some of these things. I’m not holding up the Times as the epitome of good journalism—there are plenty of editorial decisions it has made over the years that I disagree with. But, like other major newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe) it does good work explaining complicated issues and separating facts from opinion. Our society needs this.
So, I decided that the Times digital subscription is not a matter of what I get out of it. It’s a matter of what my subscription—combined with others—allows the Times to do. Paper newspaper circulations may be dropping, but the work of those journalists is still desperately required. Without it, we cannot understand the issues we must confront or the problems we must solve.
The next time you encounter a paywall, consider whether you might want to pay a little bit of money to make it possible for the work of those behind the paywall to continue.
This principle, of course, also applies to software. The apps we use on our computers can often be easily pirated. We might be annoyed when we see an iOS or Android app that costs money to use. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that free is good (and, indeed, free beer is good) and therefore everything should be free.
As the Gershwins wrote in Porgy and Bess, it ain’t necessarily so.