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The New York Times Places a Bet on the Bay Area

I cancelled my home delivery of the New York Times about 3 years ago, after they raised the subscription rate for the second time in a single calendar year. Having read a hard copy of the Times nearly every day for more than 15 years (not to mention having worked there for about 5), I expected the absence to be a shock to my system, but in fact I have hardly missed the paper edition. I read some of it online, and the stuff I no longer read apparently wasn’t as indispensable to me as I once believed.

Since I haven’t really missed getting a dead-tree edition, I never expected that I would feel any temptation to restart my subscription, but I have to admit that the Times’s launch of expanded Bay Area coverage on Fridays and Sundays is slightly enticing, and I feel some temptation to support their efforts by subscribing again:

The Bay Area pages initially will be written and edited by New York Times journalists and contributors and will include enterprising coverage of local concerns, focusing on public affairs, culture and lifestyles in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley, the East Bay and the region. The pages will expand on the work of The Times’s 10-person San Francisco news bureau and its already extensive coverage of the Bay Area.

A longer-term objective of this initiative is to work with local journalists and news organizations in a collaborative way, first in the Bay Area and then in other major markets around the country. The Times is in discussions with news organizations in the Bay Area about supplying journalism for these pages.

The first Bay Area section will appear tomorrow, and next week the Times website will start a blog called “The Bay Area” as well. When it comes down to it, I probably won’t end up resubscribing because it’s quite expensive for me (just getting the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday paper costs a whopping $10.40 a week—more than $500 per year!), but even if I don’t start taking the paper again, I can see myself buying a hard copy on the occasional Friday or Sunday, which I never do these days. And just the fact that I feel even a slight temptation to resubscribe suggests to me that this is a smart move for the paper—this region is full of the sort of educated, well-to-do people that make up the NYT’s target audience, and if expanding local coverage tempts even a few readers to drop their subscriptions to the atrophying Chronicle or BANG papers, and switch to the NYT, then it’s probably an experiment worth trying. (Even if it doesn’t attract a significant number of new subscribers, but draws more people to the website, then it may still be worth it.)

As newspapers wobble and topple around the country, there are definitely vacuums to be filled, and it remains to be seen how much of the void will be filled by local blogs, or by the non-profit journalism startups that are popping up here and there, or by other so-called “new media.” (I’m dubious of many distinctions between “old media” and “new media”—there’s good journalism and there’s bad journalism, and that’s the more important distinction to make.) It makes sense, though, for a paper with the national reach of the Times to try to step into the space left by shrinking newsrooms at local papers around the country, and the Bay Area seems like a sensible place for them to start. I won’t predict whether this bet will ultimately pay off or not, but I’m glad to see them trying—as far as I’m concerned, the more regional reporting there is, the better off we are, whether it’s being done by local blogs, j-school students, non-profits, or a newspaper based on the other side of the country.  I for one hope they manage to pull it off—whatever complaints I may have about the Times, I certainly don’t want it to shrivel up and disappear.