John Hrabe

Free Alternatives to the LA Times Paywall

March 5, 2012, will go down in history as a dark day for the Los Angeles Times. That’s because today marks the beginning of the paper’s new paywall. If you hadn’t heard about the change, you’re probably among the thousands of readers that have stopped reading the Times over the past decade.

The Los Angeles Times’ new paywall will only hurt the Los Angeles Times and its reporters. LA Times readers, don’t waste the money on a digital subscription. All these years, the Times has been holding you back. Use this is as your opportunity to switch to free alternatives that deliver better content.

As someone who has spent the past three years helping aggregate news, I promise you’ll find all the best coverage on local, state, federal and international news without ever visiting latimes.com.

International Content: Global Post and Foreign Policy.com have better international coverage than the limited stories supplied by the Times. With Foreign Policy.com, you also have the option to sign up for a free daily global headlines email.

National Content: Most of the Times national content is a reproduction of the wire services. Of course, I’ve always found Drudge Report to be the best source of my main national news.

National Political Coverage: Human Events, The Hill and Politico offer the best national political coverage. I’d especially recommend David Catanese’s blog at Politico.

California Coverage: You can replace most of your day-to-day state coverage by visiting a collection of websites. Jim Sanders of the Sacramento Bee, Brian Joseph of the OC Register and the “SF Chronicle’s Politics Blog Team” will keep you up-to-date on news out of Sacramento. I’d also point out that Josh Richman, who writes the Bay Area News Groups’ Political Blotter, had arguably the best CRP convention coverage with four posts on Friday alone.

I’ll also shamelessly plug CalWatchdog.com, where you can find my original reporting as well as more seasoned reporters John Seiler and Katy Grimes.

Los Angeles News: Nine times out of ten, the LA Daily News has a news story on the same topic as the LA Times on the same day. On that tenth day, the Daily News will have it just a day later. (On days that I update the FR main page, you can expect more links from the Daily News.)

Liberal Editorials: If you loved reading the LA Times’ liberal editorial pages, the Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle editorials are nearly identical to the Times.

Commentary: The Times op-ed pages churn out primarily liberal opinions. Every once in a while, they’ll run a great Jonah Goldberg piece, which you can get directly from National Review.

Liberal California Commentary: I love reading liberal commentary. It keeps me sharp and ready to defend my pro-freedom, pro-free-market ideology. The best liberal CA commentary can be found at CalBuzz.com. It’s wittier and better researched than anything you’d find on the Times’ editorial pages.

What about the “Pulitzer Prize-winning” in-depth, investigative journalism, you say?

First, I’d direct you to a great post by Marc Cooper, USC Annenberg journalism professor and director of Annenberg Digital News. “I’m tired of being guilt-tripped that by not supporting the Times I am not backing ‘good journalism,’” Cooper wrote. “Bullshit. Fill that paper, or fill that web page with great content I really can’t get elsewhere and then call me back. I might offer up a few bucks.”

Second, the Times doesn’t produce award-winning research; they steal it from bloggers and citizen journalists. The City of Bell scandal, which the Times cited as the main example of quality journalism behind its new paywall, was ripped off from an anonymous blogger, who gave the story to the Times.  NPR has the story behind the story:

One blogger actually has anonymously and exhaustively alleged corruption in Bell for years onWatchOurCity.com. He goes by the pen name Pedro Parramo, for a character in an iconic Mexican novel… The paper’s reporters say the blogger gave them tips. Though he’s a bit frustrated not to get more credit, he says the newspaper’s reporting muscle and much bigger audience gave life to the story in a way his website simply couldn’t. He counts his readers in the scores; TheL.A. Times has hundreds of thousands of subscribers -– though far fewer than it used to.

Still unconvinced? Just type “la times paywall” into Google’s search. You’ll get 1,490,000 responses and latimes.com won’t be among the top ten hits. (Note: I’m writing from India so my results may be different than yours.) The point is that there’s no shortage of content, even about the LA Times new paywall. As Reuters reports,

The subscription plan — which the paper is referring to as a membership program — will take effect on March 5 with an introductory rate of 99 cents a month. After the 99 cents for the first four weeks, the digital-only rate will rise to $3.99 a week. Other packages will be offered, including $1.99 a week for unlimited digital access and the Sunday newspaper.  Online access will be included at no extra charge for print subscribers.

If the information about the paywall can’t be contained to the LA Times website, how on earth do they expect their stories to stay hidden? That raises the final point: the very premise is inherently flawed. Your content is only as valuable as its reach. If you have a good story, you want it to be circulated by the public. Hiding it behind a paywall puts a cap on your reach, readership and success.

Flash Report readers won’t see much of a change to our main page. We’ll continue to provide the links on our home page under the new prefix “LATimes($).” Any readers who want to shell out the $3.99 per month to pay for the Times‘ content will be able to click straight through to the content. But,  again, I ask:

Why pay $3.99 per month when there are better alternatives?

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