We’re not even a week into the new month and already I’m done.
When I’m not writing about my family or waxing sentimental about my college and grad school days, most of my posts require some degree of online research. Even when I feel that I am fairly knowledgeable about my subject, I’m not inclined to hit the Publish button until I’ve done some basic level of fact checking, if only to avoid embarrassing myself by discovering that the whole world changed while I had my head in the clouds and that I’m the only one who didn’t get the memo.
The websites of federal and state agencies are often helpful, as are CNN and Fox News online, along with the tried and true Google search. But my mainstays, the bedrock upon which I rely, are The New York Times, The Washington Post and, since this is A Map of California, The Los Angeles Times.
The problem with those newspapers is that — surprise — they require revenue to continue operating. Accordingly, they maintain their websites, to a greater or lesser extent, behind a paywall. Newcomers to these sites may generally read some articles for free (a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “clickbait”) before being faced with a popup informing the user to pay up or be shut out.
Lately, I’ve been doing more than a little bit of research on the expiration of federal unemployment benefit extensions, and it’s finally caught up with me. Today I came face-to-face with the dreaded New York Times popup notice “you have reached your final free article for this month.” The notice includes a link to a page where readers may purchase a Times digital subscription.
This is not the first time that I have used this forum to express my opinion that effective democracy requires universal access to major newspapers (otherwise, the freedom of the press guaranteed us by the First Amendment doesn’t mean a whole lot). Nevertheless, I feel as if I do owe the Times some duty of support, particularly since I check their headlines on my phone every morning and rely on their journalistic prowess and wide range of opinions not only for statistics, but also to open my eyes to ideas that may be new to me. As the popup notice informs me that a digital subscription costs 99 cents, it’s hard to say no.
But then I looked at the other terms and conditions. Apparently, the cost for digital access to the Times is 99 cents per week for the first four weeks. After that, it’s $3.75 to $8.75 per week, depending on the plan I choose. Even if I choose the most economical plan with the least access, the cost would come to about $184 per year.
I suppose I could try to be sneaky by purchasing a subscription for the introductory offer of 99 cents per week to get me through January and then cancel at the end of the month. This assumes that I remember to actually cancel at the correct time, which I know full well is highly unlikely. My credit card would likely be charged for a while before I noticed (something the Times undoubtedly depends upon). And even if I do remember to cancel promptly, I’ll just be back in the same boat come February, hoarding my newly refreshed complement of ten free articles in a miserly fashion.
Under normal circumstances, this whole thing wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d put it on the Visa, consider it a little present to myself and promptly forget how much I paid for it.
Unfortunately, normal circumstances no longer prevail. Now that three months have elapsed since I was laid off at work, I can no longer justify a $184 expense for my own enjoyment. Not with our fifteenth wedding anniversary coming up. Not with my mother’s 80th birthday celebration coming up. Not with the expense that we reluctantly resigned ourselves to a couple of weeks ago — to buy a bed that the two of us could actually fit into without my wife being shoved up against the wall like a perp on a cop show while I hung off the other side within inches of kerplopping onto the floor.
Perhaps I should email the New York Times to suggest that they implement a special discounted rate for the unemployed. Nah, they’d probably just tell me to go to the public library. Got gas money, anyone?
I have a better idea. Now that the suspended coffee movement has taken off, perhaps the idea could be extended to suspended Times subscriptions. Surely some benevolent individual would like to buy two subscriptions and suspend one so that a certain unemployed blogger in the northern reaches of the Golden State can do his research. Pay it forward and all that, right?
I still have three more months of unemployment checks coming, and I pray that I am somehow able to find employment before the end. While there is the possibility that Congress may begin considering a stopgap measure to temporarily reinstate federal unemployment extensions when it returns to session on Monday, such a provision would likely expire before my state unemployment claim runs out and thus would not apply to my situation. And it is far from certain that Congress will be able to agree upon even a temporary measure. In my last free Times article for the month, journalist Annie Lowrey reports that Congress is “setting the stage for a major political fight” and that “the constrained fiscal environment makes its [federal unemployment benefit extensions] reinstatement somewhat less likely.” I believe it’s fair to expect that the fur will fly this week in the House and in the Senate.
Some have suggested that the unemployed will just have to become more resourceful. As for me, I have figured out that I can obtain additional access to New York Times articles via the Yahoo email account I use to keep track of Scrabble tournaments and the gmail account that I somehow obtained when I began occasionally cross-posting over at Blogger.
After that, there’s always my wife’s email account.
Be forewarned, dear nieces and nephews. I may need to borrow your email passwords soon.