The Not-so Free Media

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I signed up for the online New York Times this week, and I have a feeling it's not the last time I'll be paying for newspapers that I used to read for free.

The Times started charging this week. There are three payment plans. Mine costs $15 every four weeks, or $195 a year if I stay with it. You can read the Times online for free, but only at the rate of 20 stories per month. I probably read 5-10 stories and columns a day, seven days a week, so I'd be way over the limit.

As a fan and freelancer for the Times, I'm glad to pay them. Value for value. A few years ago I signed up for the $50 a year all-access online plan, but that one didn't work and pretty soon the Times was free again, even Maureen Dowd's column and other content that they tried to keep behind a pay wall.

This will make three newspapers that I pay for. I get home delivery of The Commercial Appeal seven days a week for $15 a month. For an insomniac, it is a relief. It arrives every morning, usually before 4 a.m., and Internet access is free. I also get the print edition of The Wall Street Journal at the office for $119.88 a year, including Internet access.

I like these national newspapers better than the aggregators such as the Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. The coverage is more complete and the business model supports more working journalists.

The Washington Post remains free. That could be a problem for the Times and the Journal because its coverage is nearly as complete and they have some of my favorite writers like Dana Milbank and Joel Achenbach and features like "Five Myths About . . ."

If the Post were to charge $15 every four weeks, like the Times, I would be paying $790 a year if I signed up. At that price, I would ditch at least one of the three national papers.

The Commercial Appeal, like most mid-size dailies, is free online. As a newsman and former employee, I would pay for it in just about any case, but I can see how they have limited pricing power. The rate I pay now is already $5.69 less than the quoted monthly rate on the website.

The only other papers I read more than 20 stories a week from online are the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, in order to keep up with their pro sports teams and the University of Michigan football team. As long as there are two dailies, or almost-dailies in one city, I don't think they can charge me for Internet access. But we will see.

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