Harvard | February 7, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Yale and the Times

By

Perhaps I’m harping too much on this news-reading thing, but Yale is currently in a fervor over cost-cutting plans to scrap dining hall subscriptions of the New York Times. One Yalie said that he “had a slight heart attack”—and I thought having a heart attack was pretty binary—when he saw plans to terminate the $50,000-a-year subscriptions.

One student wrote an op-ed in the Yale Daily News defending the print subscriptions as vital to the future of the world:

Yale is cozening us into becoming regular newspaper readers after college by letting us make a habit of it now, cost free. And by getting college students hooked on newspapers, Yale is helping to create well informed, broadly informed citizens, which I believe is an important part of our mission as a liberal arts university.

I’m quite sure the free-in-the-dining-hall elasticity of the New York Times is less than one (I hope I’m doing this right, if not, blame Greg Mankiw). That is, just because the paper’s not plunked down in front of them doesn’t mean that students will simply stop following news. The provision of a print newspaper does nothing to encourage students to be “broadly informed.” Either they are curious about the state of their world and they’ll hop onto nytimes.com or wsj.com or economist.com or cnn.com or…—or they simply aren’t curious, in which case, print won’t save them.

Furthermore, internet news has a far lower barrier to entry than trudging to dining halls at 9am: “I do not want to have to start arriving at Commons at nine in order to snag a paper, but the case for keeping The New York Times is stronger than simply protecting my right as a Yale student to not get up early on Fridays.” Providing every student full access to nytimes.com would seem to be a far better investment.

Of course, the YDN op-ed writer anticipated this argument:

Reading the print edition of The New York Times is different from reading it online. Reading the paper in print forces you to see all stories, even while skimming, and allows an article outside your normal interests to catch your eye.

I find this completely untrue. The nytimes.com frontpage is more varied and media-rich than any cover of the print version. There is more information in more formats about more topics immediately accessible than in the paper, which requires laborious page turns to reach some article that might be of peripheral interest to you. Also, Times Skimmer.

Ultimately, I don’t think our not having newspapers in every house dining hall makes us any less informed. So, I can’t see why it should dumb down the Yalies—well, actually…

In this age of e-news everywhere, I think $50k for dead trees is pretty hard to justify.

Photo credit: mandiberg on flickr.

blog comments powered by Disqus