'Times' Now Charging Web Readers
March 26, 2012

First, Comcast Cable took away TruTV just in time for the one weekend all year I would watch it, and now the Los Angeles Times has decided it doesn't want me to read its website. Well, just like the cable guys, they want me to read it, they just want me to pay for it. For years, internet content from newspapers has been free, but that is starting to change.

A month ago, I received an E-mail from the Times, telling me about their “exciting new membership program.” With a membership “for a nominal fee” (and not telling me what the fee would be), I could have unlimited access to all the “distinctive storytelling: investigative reports, commentary, in-depth local news, signature blogs, compelling photo galleries, original video content, and revealing data projects and analysis.” Of course I was already getting that for free, so why should I possibly be excited?

The change was supposed to take effect on March 5, but I still had free access after that, so I kind of forgot about it. Then this week, it hit. There was an article that one of the potential new owners of the Dodgers might want to sell naming rights to Dodger Stadium. Couldn't read it. Went to the competing L.A. newspaper's site. They didn't have it. Frustrating to say the least.

But my frustration about not getting the Dodger info that I wanted isn't the point. In this internet age of information, newspapers are trying to compete with so-called “portal sites” like AOL, MSN, and Yahoo! Check out the L.A. Times website (well, actually check out another newspaper's so you don't have to pay). It's updated several times a day (so it's more current than its own print edition and competitive with the portals). You can watch video, participate in a poll, and even comment directly on the articles if you so choose. Do the portal sites charge for such access? Of course not. If they did, not many people would read them.

It is well known that the newspaper business is struggling. I get that. But how could these tactics work? Do they expect people to pay when you can get the information for free somewhere else? About a year ago, the two local newspapers in my area raised their rates, using the same logic that business is bad. So to make business better, you are going to charge more? I didn't get a good grade in my economics class in college, but I was awake that day. That's not how it works. Perhaps newspapers should have started charging a fee when they first went online years ago. I believe a few did, but got very few subscribers because the major papers were free.

So, after being denied access this week, I did some checking. The New York Times has a similar program. You get to read 20 articles a month for free (it will be reduced to 10 per month next week), after that it's $3.75 a week (it turns out that the L.A. Times lets you read 15 free articles a month, which is why it took awhile for me to be denied access. That wasn't explained in the e-mail, but now that I know that, I'll take advantage of it). The Los Angeles version will charge $3.99/week, but both have “introductory offers” of 99 cents for the first four weeks (I thinks that's 99 cents total, not $0.99/week).

Another site,, lets you read all their sports news content for free, but if you want to read stories from their columnists, you have to become an “ESPN Insider”, which is code for $40/year ($3.33/month paid annually).

I suppose if I wasn't so broke, I would just grumble a little bit and pay the fee, but I'm not the only one out here pinching pennies. Newspaper people know that, but even if the news biz is struggling, gouging the little guy is not going to help. Newspaper websites (like their print editions) make their money from advertising. Supposedly the economy is starting to recover. If that's true, I've got an idea. Sell more ads and leave us alone!!!

Sports and other stuff...

Final Four: Going into Saturday, all of my final four teams were still in, and I was ready to brag about picking seventh-seed Florida. But three of my four are now out, including the Gators, who had an 11-point lead with 8:14 to go. Louisville went on an 18-3 run to win it. Kentucky is my only semifinalist remaining, and I picked them to win it all. Syracuse and North Carolina were my other two losers.

Final Three: April 1 is this coming Sunday, so we should know the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers soon. It is reported that the final three bidders are Steve Cohen, Stan Kroenke, and Magic Johnson. Cohen (not the guy played by Peter Gallagher in The O.C.--that was Sandy Cohen), is a billionaire hedge fund manager and has former agent Arn Tellem and L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong in his group, Kroenke owns the St. Louis Rams (the second-worst team in the NFL this year), and Johnson has baseball executive Stan Kasten as the baseball guy. Major League Baseball got to pick the finalists but outgoing owner Frank McCourt gets to choose the winner. I'm rooting for Magic here, but I still fear the unknown. McCourt's deal with MLB is to pick the new owner by April 1 so the sale will close by April 30.

Konichiwa basubaru!: The Major League Baseball season opens at 3am Pacific Time Wednesday morning when the Oakland A's meet the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Japan. I'm bummed that the games won't be on TV here, but I can listen online. I might catch the first few innings live and listen to the rest when I get up. The two teams also play at 2am PT Thursday. The MLB Network (which I don't get) is televising tape delay. Seattle is airing the games live, but not the cheap-os in Oakland. Oh well. When your team payroll is less than Mitt Romney's bar tab, what do you expect.

Selig lied (what a shock!): It took over a year for me to figure this out, and it's really not a huge deal, but it's still there. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig moved the start of the season to the middle of the week last year. That also meant the season ends on a Wednesday, which is really weird because it has always ended on a Sunday in the past. Selig's reason for the move was to get the post-season started earlier. One problem with that. Not counting the games this week in Japan, the season actually begins three days later than it would have before. Sports fans remember that the NCAA championship basketball game and MLB's openers were on the same day. The basketball game is earlier this year.

Tigered Out: Tiger Woods won a golf tournament, first one since whenever (2009 I'm told on every sportscast). For a guy who hasn't done anything in three years, he sure gets a lot of pub. You know whoever wins the upcoming Masters will probably get fewer headlines than Woods. Tiger, do me a favor, either get really great again or just go away. I'm tired of all this hype about nothing.

Manning mania: I know the biggest sports story of the week was Peyton Manning signing with the Denver Broncos. I guess I was more enraged about the L.A. Times thing, but I don't have much of an opinion other than I am surprised it happened pretty quickly. I know my relatives will disagree, but at least he didn't sign with the Niners!

Random musical note: I can't remember the last time I fell in love with a song when the first time I heard it was in a commercial. It's a Lowe's ad that's been running during the NCAA tournament. It turns out “It's Time To Go Outside” is really called “Good Morning” by The Kicks, released in 2009.

Another random musical note: C#

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