Why I’m happy to pay for the New York Times

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My latest blog post for the Harvard Business Review is a celebration of the New York Times’ new paywall. OK, maybe not a celebration of the paywall itself, but a celebration of the decision to alpha test the paywall on Canadian readers.

This news gave me the same rush that I get when the Times runs one of its roughly biweekly news, arts or business stories about something Canadian: Yippee!! The Times noticed us!

My HBR post asks whether the paywall could prove to be a watershed moment for Canada’s online media consumers. Maybe turning us into America’s media sandbox could be the way we finally get access to all that delicious, not-available-here, DRM-ed content.

As my loyal readers already know, I regard the Canadian obstacles to accessing online content as something between a personal insult and an athletic challenge. If accessing not-available-here content were an Olympic sport, I would have a wall full of medals. I’ve got a US VPN, a complicated chain of pseudonymous accounts, virtual phone numbers and mailing addresses and a really weird quasi-American visa card that took months to set up. Much of this is thanks to a talented personal trainer who, for his own protection, will not be hyperlinked.

In the course of evading DRM I’ve had to figure out so many workarounds that I figure I’m now well-prepared for a career in money laundering. All this so that I can watch Justified and download the Scrabble Tile Rack app. (BTW, shout out to the folks in the policy and legal communities: how awesome that you’ve turned teens’ interest in downloading music into career preparation for a life in crime.)

You’d think this means I’m enjoying a last breath of paywall freedom by tunneling my way to the US, at least until the paywall launches there. But I have another confession to make: I don’t have to, because I’m already a New York Times subscriber.

I’m not talking about a digital subscription: I’m talking about the old-fashioned, smush-up-some-dead-trees-and-get-smart-people-to-write-on-them kind. An actual print edition of the New York Times gets delivered to our house every day, a luxury that costs so much in Canada that we have had to give up the dream of sending our kids to university.

I tried to resist this indulgence. When I moved back to Canada 13 years ago, I tried to live without the smudgy ink of the daily Times, to read Canadian papers with my morning coffee and then look for Gail Collins online.

But the New York Times is like a five-star hotel: once you’ve gotten used to climbing into clean 500-count Egyptian cotton every night, it’s hard to wake at the Holiday Inn. Much to my chagrin, I discovered I had turned into my grandmother Mouie, a 5th-generation New Yorker who used to make us drive halfway across Toronto every day she was visiting, so that we could pick up a copy of what she simply called “The Paper”.

And here’s the thing: Mouie was right. The New York Times is The Paper, the closest thing I know to the Platonic ideal of newspaperdom. Yes, its politics can be…umm…troubling (on certain issues), and yes it sometimes gets things very wrong (WMDs, anyone?) But it is a serious newspaper, with daily stories that actually provide the information and context to understand the latest news cycle, rather than republishing a series of lightly-edited press releases that hang together only if you follow them with the daily consistency of a soap opera. It has (some) columnists who are genuine intellectuals. And joy of joys, it has actual arts coverage that can tell you not only which video game to play but what’s at stake in the latest curatorial or theatrical experiments.

Plus — and how did this get to be noteworthy? — they have actual copyeditors. You know, people who understand the difference between compliment and complement, and notice if a paragraph ends abruptly in

All if which is to say to the New York Times paywall: hell yes!! It would be wonderful to live in a world in which high-quality news and commentary was recogized as so essential to a democratic society that we provided the financial support necessary to make it available to all. But as someone living in a country where I can’t get access to consistently high-quality press even by paying cash, I’m happy to spend $15/month to keep the New York Times in business — and much more to find it curled up on my doorstep.

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