The New York Times is putting its website behind a paywall. But is this the future of online journalism? Emily Bell, the mastermind behind Guardian online, isn't so sureby Frieda Klotz / March 17, 2011 / Leave a comment
A beacon for the future of journalism, or is The Gray Lady making a big mistake?
Earlier today, the New York Times made the long-awaited announcement that it is launching digital subscriptions for its online site. If you want to read more than 20 articles a month, you’ll need to dig in your pockets for $15 every four weeks (this will cover NYTimes.com and the Smartphone App). The changes take effect soon—first in Canada, and from 28th March, in the US and the rest of the world.
New York Times executives have been mulling over the decision for months. They are, finally and in a slightly different form, boldly going where Rupert Murdoch went last year when he made the London Times a subscription-only site. In the press release, the Times’s chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., stated: “This move will enhance the Times’s position as a source of trustworthy news, information and high-quality opinion for many years to come.”
These developments will be watched with interest by Emily Bell, former director of digital content at the Guardian and current head of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Bell, with whom I spoke earlier this year, guessed that the paywall would be “as robust as the Great Wall of China but as leaky or as holey as a piece of Swiss cheese.”
Bell came to Columbia last July after almost 20 years at the Guardian, where she had played a significant role in increasing the publication’s online readership to an impressive 1.8 million per day. “When you get to 45, you do tend to think, ‘What next?’” she said of the move, which surprised some of her friends at the time. But a range of motivations were at play: an impulse to experience New York’s media world; a wish to think about journalism in a long-term, strategic way; and a personal desire to take a risk.
She arrives in New York just as the city’s media institutions are experiencing change at a giddying rate. “It will be fantastically interesting to see whether they pull it off as a technology project,” she suggested on the experiment at the Times. “My instinct is that they will never make as much money out of it as they’ve had to invest in it, and you will never know what else you could have made money out of.”
The office that she inhabits at…