I finally caved today and subscribed to The Times website. The venerable newspaper put its site behind a paywall, which most people thought was a pretty bad idea, until they realised one thing about The Times: once you go without it for long enough, you miss it and want it back.
I’ve never been an avid Times reader – more of a Guardian or Independent type by nature – but even though the Indescribablyboring (as Private Eye used to call it) used to claim the centre ground, it’s really just a Liberal Democrat version of the Guardian, and if you read both and nothing else eventually all the handwringing and bleating just gets a bit … much.
So, today I Took The Times. A £1 subscription buys me 30 days’ access, and I honestly don’t know if I’ll continue to subscribe after that. Based on my consumption of the broadsheet, probably not. I used to buy The Sunday Times about once a month, and enjoy the bits I read but never read all of it. There was just so much of it! And that was my impression today.
It’s pretty annoying to keep logging in, and so that’s a black mark against it instantly. I don’t fundamentally object to the idea of paying for content, but I do think that nearly £9 per month for a regular subscription is too much. You can buy a one-off £1 log in for 24 hours’ access, so that’s probably something I’d do maybe twice a month.
The immediate thing I noticed was the length of the articles. There was one about a tsunami that had hit the Bristol coast in England a few hundred years ago, and how much damage it caused, and how we shouldn’t get too complacent. I’d seen a documentary on the subject a while back so I knew the story, but this went much deeper. It described what would have happened to cause it, what defences we have in place these days (a general flood warning system), and was a pretty long and involved article that gave a lot of information.
A feature on Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz didn’t just have her giving a few ripe quotes but interviewed her brother/manager and gave quite an eye-opening view of her background (overachiever, but grounded). A linked piece on the new generation of child stars didn’t just have pictures and a brief biog but explained how these pint-sized A-listers hope to avoid the Lindsay Lohan route. Justin Bieber, it seems, is squeaky clean because he’d spent ages studying the career trajectories of his predecessors and figured drugs are bad for business.
I definitely enjoyed my first glimpse and will probably learn an awful lot about the inner workings of nuclear reactors (talking of which, awesome but unrelated blog post here) and Middle Eastern politics by the end of March.
So why hold off so long on subscribing to the site?
Rupert Murdoch isn’t the most loved of people.
The News Corporation magnate (owner of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal) has been accused of anti-competitive activities and of abusing his position for political gains. The right-wing editorial bias is pretty obnoxious in most of his media, though it’s subtle enough in The Times just to prove a gentle foil for the left-wing Guardian.
Even that aside, the big problem is that Murdoch owns everything. I mean, not literally everything, but whatever fears people have or have had about Google or Microsoft, Murdoch has at least a comparable and probably a much more insidious influence. He even credited himself with helping the Tories win two elections – though it has been suggested, particularly given his support to Labour in the late 90s and Cameron last year – that he simply bet on whichever horse was most likely to win in order to curry favour later on.
If there was even the slightest chance that readers were being persuaded how to vote through editorial bias, that alone should be reason to worry about him having an even stronger grip on the media. If you add into that broader concerns about monopolistic effects on fair competition, its effects on other businesses and ultimately the consumer, there isn’t really any reason at all to support Murdoch’s takeoever of broadcaster BSkyB. News Corporation plans to sell off Sky News as an “independent” company, but News Corp will still pay Sky News’s bills, provide its satellite access, and select its board.
So, on the same day that I subscribed to England’s 226 year-old Newspaper of Record, I also signed a petition from campaign group Avaaz to oppose the takeover of BSkyB. I’m not sure how effective it will be, but I’d rather say something than nothing. It’s one thing to want information about the world, but when we learn something that troubles us, our next responsibility is to act.