I don’t expect to get anything for free (though I’m delighted on the rare occasions when I do). As someone who appreciates quality and standards, I fully understand that worthwhile things cost money – money that enables the creator of worthwhile things to continue producing and uphold quality and standards. I gladly pay for my clothes, my entertainment and, of course, my news.
Another component of my willingness to spend on quality is an obligation I feel to show support. I support my preferred local newspaper, which happens to be The New York Times. On a non-commercial level, I proudly make an annual contribution to WNYC, my local public radio station, which comes over the airwaves and the internet for free.
I had dinner with a friend the other night, who happens to be a reporter for the Times. He told me about more expected staff cuts at the paper, which will result in at least 100 fewer reporters in the newsroom by the end of the year. Clearly the reason is money, or lack thereof. Apparently the number of digital subscribers isn’t rising as much as the number of print subscribers is falling. My hometown paper, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, is now longer distributed daily. Grim.
Then I remembered at least three major assets at the Times who quit over the last year or so: David Pogue (tech reporter), Cathy Horyn (fashion reporter) and Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight). Though Horyn left for personal reasons to care for her partner Art Ortenberg, Pogue and Silver left for other media companies. It’s probably a safe bet that Yahoo! and ESPN offered sexier checks to Pogue and Silver than the Times did. So much for loyalty.
To me, the declining numbers are nuts. The digital products from the Times are superlative (and getting even better with each update). In addition to the flagship NY Times apps for iPad and iPhone, other apps like Crossword, The Scoop (an NYC food/drink/fun guide), Real Estate and the wonderful NYT Now app for iPhone are amazing, and the Cooking and the Collection apps for the iPad are terrific. Between the straight-up stories and the amazing multimedia, why more people don’t subscribe and take full advantage of these fabulous resources is beyond me. If more people subscribed and took that advantage, they’d only get better.
And to this faithful, NPR-junkie listener to WNYC, the station’s wonderful iPhone app is a game changer. I get to listen live, read stories, and save my favorite shows for listening later, even offline. (My favorite shows? Fresh Air, Studio 360, On the Media, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, Radiolab.)
Circling back to loyalty, I like to exercise mine with my local resources, like WNYC and The New York Times. If I lived in Cleveland, I’d be supporting WCPN and subscribing to The Plain Dealer. Boston? I’d be a WBUR supporter and a Boston Globe subscriber. I’m generally not a fan of shiny television news that assaults the senses and insults intelligence with anchors dressed in fake concern and inappropriate lipgloss. I like in-depth reporting, sober and intelligent discourse, educated opinions from people who know more than I do, rigorous standards of journalism and local resources that can thrive… all of which require money.
We can sit here and complain about how quality journalism is declining and how newspapers are shrinking or folding, or we can do our part. Whatever your politics and your preferences, support the newspaper that serves you and your community, either digitally or in print. Make a contribution to your local public radio station if you listen to one. If there’s a website or blog you regularly read for free, consider making a donation, however small. It’s something.
Our culture of ravenous media consumption is filthy with takers. But being a shameless taker is a tacky color that doesn’t look good on anyone.