The Skyline is Falling

Maira Kalman. From Times Select.


Today I feel the kind of pain and indignation that early adopters of the i-Phone must have felt. After about a year of paying $US7 a month to read the thin and tentative Times Select service to extract a few gems — guest columns by Maira Kalman, Steven Johnson and Michael Pollan and access to the archive without having to pay about $US4 to retrieve a story — I received an e-mail this morning informing me that Times Select was discontinued today. Why the change?

Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion – as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.

We welcome all online readers to enjoy the popular and powerful voices that have defined Times commentary – Maureen Dowd, Thomas L. Friedman, Frank Rich, Gail Collins, Paul Krugman, David Brooks, Bob Herbert, Nicholas D. Kristof and Roger Cohen. And we invite them to become acquainted with our exclusive online journalism – columns by Stanley Fish, Maira Kalman, Dick Cavett and Judith Warner; the Opinionator blog; and guest forums by scientists, musicians and soldiers on the frontlines in Iraq. All this will now reach a broader audience in the United States and around the world.

The salve or booby prize being offered is limited access to another service that seems as tenuous as TimesSelect, the Times Reader which apes the appearance of the physical newspaper. “It is normally offered for $169 annually, and is free to Home Delivery subscribers. (Please note that Times Reader is available for Windows only, though a version for Macintosh is planned.) For the duration of this complimentary offer (through Dec. 31, 2007), you also have access to our Premium Crosswords as well as the full online Archive, back to 1851 (100 articles per month).” I have the feeling of having been sucker-punched. And due to a “database upgrade” I can’t, for the moment, even access the stories I used to have to pay to read. And the crossword requires additional software in order to run on my computer.

In a story in The New York Times, the failure of Times Select has been attributed to the fact that many readers came in behind the firewall, through permalinks within blogs and from feeds, rather than from the paper’s home page. “These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue. “What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” said Vivian L. Schiller, the site’s manager.” A Reuters report quotes Rupert Murdoch as having similar thoughts about removing the $US99 per year subscription fee for The Wall Street Journal’s website.

Online is a savage world. A couple of months ago the Simon Kelner, the Editor-in-Chief of English newspaper The Independent told the UK Press Gazette that the website must come second. “Kelner also said the economics of newspapers were ‘fundamentally flawed’ and that he didn’t see the advertising market improving. “If you have an exclusive story at five o’clock to go in the following day’s newspaper, the idea that you would put it on the website for nothing strikes me as complete madness. Our relationship with our own website is one where the paper is first and foremost, and the website comes second. Until there is a model for making money out of a newspaper website, we’re not going to plough millions of pounds into it.” “

Simon Kelner created a more “compact” tabloid edition of The Indepent to save on newsprint costs, and has strong concepts for raising revenue and making newspapers more relevant. In an interview with Evening Standard journalist David Rowan he talked about raising the cover price of newspapers (although he doesn’t want to be the first one to do this). “We sell our product far too cheaply, and cover prices have got to go up. A daily paper should be a pound, a Saturday and a Sunday quality paper should be heading up to £2.That’s when the economics change, and you can put more investment in the journalism and be less at the mercy of the vagaries of the advertising market.”


At around the time that Rupert Murdoch was settling his bid for The Wall Street Journal, the head of his Australian division of News Limited, John Hartigan was musing on the robustness and continuing power of newspapers.

NEWSPAPERS were far from dead and had the chance to reach more readers than ever by embracing new media platforms and championing issues, such as climate change, that were close to readers, News Ltd boss John Hartigan said at an industry conference yesterday.

“Once newspapers were the primary source of information; now they are the primary source of what that information means and why it’s important,” Mr Hartigan said in a speech to the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association in Melbourne yesterday.

“Part of this trend involves more emphasis on crusading and campaigning journalism in our newspapers … Our readers don’t want us to remain dispassionate fence-sitters all the time.”

Miriam Steffens. Sydney Morning Herald. August 8 2007

On June 11, a couple of weeks before leaving office, British Prime Minister Tony Blair attacked what he characterised as a blurring of opinion and news reporting in the The Independent.

‘Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is, a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine. The metaphor for this genre of modern journalism is The Independent newspaper. Let me state at the outset it is a well-edited, lively paper and is absolutely entitled to print what it wants, how it wants, on the Middle East or anything else. But it was started as an antidote to the idea of journalism as views, not news. That was why it was called The Independent. Today it is avowedly a viewspaper, not merely a newspaper. The final consequence of all this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media.

Simon Kelner countered with:

As the only representative of the multifarious British media mentioned by name, it’s hard not to be flattered. Or, indeed, vindicated – our principled opposition to his policy on Iraq (or the Middle East as he quaintly put it: note he couldn’t refer to Iraq by name) has clearly exasperated him. But that misses the point. We are unabashed about the way in which The Independent has evolved, although we would point out that this newspaper was not established as an antidote to the idea of journalism as views, but as an antidote to proprietorial influence and narrow political allegiance.

Today’s paper is true to those ideals. So how come we now exemplify everything that’s wrong with the public discourse? We don’t trawl through people’s dustbins. We respect the privacy of those in public life. We strive to abide by the PCC code. But, after 10 years of the Blair administration, a decade of spin and counter-spin, of dodgy dossiers, of 45-minute warnings, of burying bad news, of manipulation and misinformation, we feel that the need to interpret and comment upon the official version of events is more important than ever. And we are confident that our readers can differentiate between news and opinion.

Among the stories that Tony Blair is alluding to are undoubtedly Robert Fisk’s powerful and conscience-stirring reports which he writes from Beirut in Lebanon. He gives names to the anonymous people caught up in war, witnesses the tragedies, but also the small joys of life in a region of the world which has surely known more than it’s fair share of grief.

Front page of The Independent. Edited by Bono


On May 15 of last year Bono edited an issue of The Independent. Simon Kelner wrote about Bono’s day in his office in the September 2006 issue of the British edition of GQ. In the morning’s editorial meeting “Bono is speaking the language of newspapers, his conversation is peppered with talk of mastheads, skylines (the promotional panel at the top of the front page) and NIBS (news in briefs).” One of Bono’s many avatars is fledgling media baron. He’s created Elevation Partners, which bought a large stake in the American finance magazine, Forbes, in August 2006, so casting Bono as newspaper-editor-for-a-day isn’t so far-fetched. What is fuzzy is the marketing tie in.

Tomorrow The Independent is to turn RED, and half of all the revenues from that day’s newspaper will be donated to fighting Aids in Africa. The paper will be edited by the U2 frontman and activist Bono, who, along with the leading American philanthropist Bobby Shriver set up the Product RED partnership. The RED initiative is designed to throw the weight of the corporate world behind the battle against a disease that will kill two million Africans this year alone. Big high-street names, including American Express, Gap, Converse and Giorgio Armani, have already signed up to the scheme, in which companies create specifically designed products and donate a percentage of the profits to programmes for women and children with Aids in Africa. The Independent is the first media organisation to sign up to the scheme.

Front page of The Independent. Edited by Giorgio Armani

The strong marketing push made it seem as if Bono’s issue of the The Independent was all skyline. When it was followed up by an issue of The Independent guest edited by fashion designer Giorgio Armani, the marketing angle seemed even more pronounced. Does an editorial become an advertorial when Giorgio Armani writes:

For it seems to me that today too many children are growing up in situations where the innocence and naivety of childhood that is rightly theirs is snatched away too early through war, famine, poverty or disease. Every day we see images of children who have suffered this fate in Iraq, in Lebanon, in New Orleans, in Sudan – the list goes on. There are so many conflicts going on in the world, so many countries defined as being in poverty, so many children living with Aids, inherited at birth, so many others living with unclean water, or without enough to eat, so many orphans, abandoned to a cruel fate.

For all of these children there has been no age of innocence nor will there be. So when Bono and Bobby Shriver told me about their plans for the RED brand, I signed up straight away.

What a brilliant idea – sell people products they want and give a percentage of the revenues to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. In this way, maybe we can make a difference to the lives of some of those unfortunate children.

Surely if there is one thing we should all be able to agree upon, whatever our faith or race, it seems to me we have an obligation to protect the age of innocence for the world’s children, today, and for all our tomorrows.

Online the line between advertising and editorial could be redrawn even further Australian News Limited head John Hartigan believes. “Perhaps we need to accept that the relationship between editorial and advertising is going to be very different online to the way it’s been possible in print.”