Yesterday I got a tip that Seattle Times employees—including the reporters—were expected to pony up for their own website's paywall (at a discounted rate, but pay nonetheless). Is that a real thing? As a reporter, I frequently have to search our website's online archives for linking, providing context, or developing backfill on articles. It didn't seem possible that a newspaper would actually charge its reporters for an essential function of their jobs. That would be like installing payphones on everyone's desk and pocketing the money. So I wrote to Seattle Times executive editor David Boardman:
Hi, David. I just heard that Seattle Times reporters must pay to pass the newspaper's paywall (at a reduced rate).
Is this accurate? If so, why is that the policy? What's the rate they pay? Does that complicate their own reporting? Like, how do reporters gather backfill from the paper's archives without paying? Have there been problems (reporters losing a password and/or having trouble looking at the website)? Have there been complaints?
Dominic Holden News Editor, The Stranger
Boardman replied this morning:
Like most businesses that expect their employees to use the company's products, we have long encouraged our employees to have home subscriptions to the printed Seattle Times and have provided significant discounts for them to do so. Some only subscribe for the days they are not normally at work, where they get free copies.
When we went to digital subscriptions, those who already had print subscriptions at home — even if only for the Sunday paper — received full, free access. Those who didn't were offered deeply discounted print/digital or digital-only subscriptions.
Because full digital access is necessary for everyone in the newsroom, I offered all employees the opportunity to opt out of the subscription requirement if they felt they could not do it for either financial or philosophical reasons, and that we would pay for their subscription. I'm pleased to say that of nearly 200 newsroom employees, only seven took that option. So it's clearly not a big deal here. Everyone has full access and has since the digital-subscription program began.
Boardman is the best thing at that newspaper—and it sucks that his staff is asked to pay to do their jobs. It's nice of Boardman to provide a plan for opting out, but he shouldn't have to provide that plan. Moreover, reporters shouldn't feel like they're drawing unwanted attention by asking to opt out.