Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hello? New York Magazine's Supposed "Scoop" Today About NYT Charging For Website Isn't A Scoop At All.

New York Magazine's supposed "scoop" today about a NYT decision to charge online readers for content was no scoop at all -- just a mish-mash of previously-reported stories, along with some carefully-hedged speculation about the future.

Stories as far back as last spring made clear that the NYT was headed inexorably towards a paid model, and was facing the very choice -- between a metered system and micropayments -- that the New York Magazine story represented today as "news."

New York Magazine says -- with no attribution whatsoever -- that the NYT "seems to have settled" on the metered system. Seems!

The story reports, again without attribution, that it will likely be "months" before the NYT begins charging, "perhaps sometime this spring." Perhaps!
An interview with NYT president and general manager Scott Heekin-Canedy, published last July in the Daily Telegraph, made clear that the NYT had already decided to go with a paid model, and had narrowed its choices to those two options.

"The climate seems to have changed," Heekin-Canedy told the Telegraph. "There seems to be more of a willingness to pay."

Reports of an internal conflict over these choices -- along with arguments in favor of keeping the website completely free -- have been frequently covered by media journalists covering the decision-making process, most notably John Koblin's excellent pieces in the New York Observer.

And anyone who believes the story's other "news" -- that the decision will be made in "days" by publisher. A. O. Sulzberger Jr. -- should recall all the "scoops" that have previously forecast an imminent decision.

From the New York Observer, way back on May 15, 2009:

By the end of June, The New York Times will come to a decision on how to charge for some of its content on the Web, The Observer has learned.

From the Daily Telegraph, nearly two months later, on July 9:

In an interview to be published in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph, Scott Heekin-Canedy, the president and general manager of The New York Times Media Group, will say that he is deciding between two charging systems – a “metered” and a “membership” model. A firm decision will come by next month.

And from today's New York Magazine post, by Gabriel Sherman:

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks.

Note the use of the conditional word "could." Very handy when a reporter has no idea if he's right or not!

Today's New York Magazine story did offer a few minor new details that may or may not be true: a NYT decision not to pursue an arrangement with Journalism Online, and a supposed attempt by News Corporation to link up with the NYT to fight Google's impact on web distribution of news.

It's worth noting that both those "facts" appeared in New York Magazine story with no attribution or elaboration.

As for the allegiances in the current debate that Sherman represented as news -- executive editor Bill Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson fighting for a paywall, with digital executive Martin Nisenholtz arguing to keep the website free -- any close reader of Nisenholtz's comments over the last year is already well aware of his concerns about charging for news.

"The reason it is taking a period of time to do this analysis is that if we don't do it right, a lot of money drops out of the system," Nisenholtz told a media conference in December. "That's not true of other newspaper Web sites, including those in our own company."

At that time, Nisenholtz confirmed in December the fact that the NYT was seriously considering the metered system followed by the Financial Times -- already reported in the Observer and elsewhere. Again: not news!

The other "news" reported by New York Magazine? That the NYT executives haven't been able to make a decision! Guess what, guys -- we already figured that out.


Anonymous said...

I've always thought that the smart thing to for the NYT is to start slowly by selling 'extra editions'. Brag about how "the paper" is still free and the pay wall only blocks the "extras".

Most of the reporters usually have another 1-2k words on a topic by the time they file. Type this up for the important topics and sell it for $3-4. Then give it to the dead tree subscribes as a lagniappe as thanks for paying so much.

This model gives you plenty of flexibility to experiment. Over time, the economics may drive most of the information behind the paywall or it might not. We may end up with the official edition being filled with 200 word synopses or it may stay pretty much the same.

There will also be room for $10 mega-extras filled with say a dozen pieces about the latest research in staving off cancer.

This model provides plenty of flexibility and the chance to wade in slowly. They're quite smart to be very wary.

Anonymous said...

Reporters may have "another 1-2K words" on a topic, but who has the time to "type it up" as the previous commenter suggested? Writing is very labor intensive, and Times writers are already working harder than ever before.

Anonymous said...

Why not charge more for the advertisers who under the guise of some seductive brand flood users with
a sludge of cookies and other anchors--parasitic aggregates that could be factored into pricing schemes and debatably generate enough revenue to make valuable information profitable.

As for those in existence devoted to diffusing or nullifying the potency of content with palliative jeremiads and other clashing discontent, they are best highlighted at times when advertisers augment threats to retreat, though such appeasement runs the risk of renounced papistical regard.

Anonymous said...

Well, of course it takes time to type up the backstory. But once you charge for it, it might be worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

erm...nevermind. Sometimes a "scoop" is actually a scoop.

Anonymous said...

What? Nothing from you guys congratulating Sherman on his scoop? Because he pretty much nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Since Adam Moss is deeply sourced at the Times, ridiculing NYM for this seems especially over the top...

Christopher Gray said...

"Anonymous said... Most of the reporters usually have another 1-2k words on a topic by the time they file. Type this up for the important topics and sell it for $3-4."

Ah. Yes. Wonderful idea. Let me start on that right away. This will be very helpful, because my days are just so darned empty!

Christopher Gray