The New York Times and Power to the People

338 words, 1:41 minutes


Early last year the New York Times announced that, for the first time in its long history, the news outlet made more money from subscribers than advertisers. 

Think about that. 

People like you and I are now providing over half the revenue for this esteemed news institution rather than companies like Ford or IBM or Coca Cola. Or, even better, any political party. I have nothing against these companies or politics but I do get a little queasy knowing what really supports the Fourth Estate. The reason this happened isn't actually good news for the Times. It's because ad revenue has declined. But, still, this shift means they have user-generated revenue running the company. Like NPR, to some extent.

Is this a temporary situation detailed on a financial reporting document soon to be outdated?  Is it merely a blip in media history? Or is this the beginning of something bigger? Perhaps a sea-change in what drives the business of news?

The barriers between news content, editorials and advertising have been eroding for decades. Nothing symbolizes the complete destruction of these barriers quite like the dreaded “advertorial.” This awful form of “content” signaled the destruction of the wall between editorial review and advertising.  Heck, the portmanteau itself is an assault on respectable news content. 

However, this recent New York Times report could change everything. Imagine the stability of having millions of users each paying an incremental amount for your business rather than a few paying millions to keep your business afloat.  In this case, imagine a world where the informed public actually controlled the success of news outlets as opposed to a few deep-pocketed advertisers.

What if reporters were free to report without bias?  What if editors could provide a bit more leeway in what gets published? What if columnists were free to express their complete opinions?

Of course, news rooms have not completely succumbed to the influence of advertisers or political parties. But it is heartening to think that there may be a populous power-shift occurring for news media. 

Will it grow?  Or will it last?