Since before I can remember, my browser home page has been set to The New York Times. Every morning when I wake up, I check The New York Times iPhone application before checking my email, my faithful Google calendar and Facebook. We all have a daily routine we cannot start our day without, and reading the news from The Times is mine.

So the most troubling decision that I will have to face in 2011 is not what classes to add or drop, what job to take (knock on wood) nor whether to move back home or get my own place. I will have to decide whether to pay for online access to my favorite newspaper.

The Times announced in early 2010 that they would be moving to a paid system beginning this year, following the lead of peer newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Each newspaper has adopted a slightly different system, with The Journal’s content divided between free and subscription-only and the Financial Times’ content available for free up to a certain number of articles. The New York Times is using a similar metered system, allowing readers to access a fixed number of articles per month for free; reading more articles requires a flat fee payment. The goal is to continue to allow free access to occasional readers while raising revenue from frequent readers. Additionally, print subscribers are granted full access without any fee.

The reason behind the change is simple: The Times needs money. What newspaper doesn’t? Print advertisement has been falling steadily since the onset of the recession, and the rates for online ad space — intrusive as they may be — can’t make up the revenue difference. Economically speaking, the online subscription makes sense.

But journalistically speaking, there is an argument to be made about the implications of charging for news. Obviously this is nothing new — print newspapers, for the most part, charge. And as I mentioned before, there is a significant precedent for charging for online newspapers. But in an ideal world, freedom of the press would also include freedom of access to the press. Every person should have an equal opportunity to be informed about the world. The Internet has already done wonders in this regard: Wikipedia is the hallmark of online information sharing free of charge, but it is only the beginning.

If all newspapers of record make all of their online content available to paying subscribers only, what news sources would be left for those unable to pay? There are always benefits that only the top newspapers have access to (exclusive interviews, informed sources, the ability to pay their reporters more than minimum wage) that give them a leg-up on the competition. And what if all news sources were to go pay-only, what then?

I doubt this “ideal world” of completely free news will ever come into fruition — we are still struggling with basic free press victories on the international stage — but there are at least some ways to avoid slipping into the horror story of segregated news with credible information only available to those able to pay for it.

Online ad space is not nearly as expensive as its corresponding print real estate. And if you ask me, it’s exponentially more conspicuous to have a giant pop up advertisement on the home page of a newspaper than to have a front-page banner ad on the front page of a print edition. The cost does not yet correspond to the value, and news organizations are seeing the effect of this disproportion on their bottom lines. Newspapers have caught up with the waves of technology editorially — iPad and other e-reader devices being the next step — but their finances haven’t adjusted as well. Only when all avenues of revenue are utilized to their fullest extent will newspapers be able to see optimistic returns. And on the other end of it, advertisers ought to reconsider their ad campaigns and shift their focuses to the Internet. There is room for growth for niche and hyper-local news, and advertisers should take advantage of these demographic-specific websites. Asking for money from online readers should be a last resort — making news available to as many people as possible should always be a newspaper’s first priority.

It’s going to be a slow change as newspapers steadily increase their rates for online ads and advertisers become more willing to spend more on the prime space. So for now, I’ll probably opt for paying for my daily dose of The Times.

Marissa Amendolia is a senior in the College and a former editor-in-chief of THE HOYA. She can be reached at [email protected]. BYTE THE BULLET appears every other Friday.

To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact [email protected]. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.

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