New York Times Mobile App Plans to Dumb Readers Into Addiction

I’m a somewhat regular news reader. I’m not in any way obsessed or addicted – I can go a couple of days without checking the news on my computer or iPhone – but I do like to keep up with what’s going on. (Those who are obsessed with following the news might want to read Alain de Botton’s recent book, The News: A User’s Manual (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) to get a bit of perspective.)

I’m also a long-time reader of the New York Times. Back in the day, I used to read it on “paper,” and looked forward to getting the massive Sunday Times to read with brunch, bagels and coffee. In later years, I’ve followed the Times on the web, and found it to be a generally (though not always) reliable source of news.

When the New York Times launched digital subscriptions, its pricing kept me from reading it much. While I do think that newspapers (and their web sites) should not be free, I think the Times went too far. Not only do they have three different prices – one for web and smartphone access, one for web and tablet access, and one for “all digital” access – but it’s too expensive. Since I read news on at least two devices, I’d have to pay $8.75 a week, or a whopping $455 a year. Nope, that’s not going to happen.

But the New York Times is doubling down. They’ve announced a new app at SXSW which, for $8 a month, will provide “a curated feed of stories with specially crafted blurbs of key points, allowing readers to scroll down without tapping to get an idea of the most important news of the moment.” In other words, big pictures and a few words. Users will be able to click through and actually “read” the news as well, but the goal is to just blurb people into submission.

The New York Times has certainly lost its way. Not only is this a pedestrian idea, but the goal is to “addict” people to the news; executive editor Jill Abramson said, “I really believe that we will be, and I hate to use the word addicting, but addict a whole new audience to the New York Times.” This is exactly what de Botton talks about in his book, when he says, “We are in danger of getting so distracted by the ever-changing agenda of the news that we wind up unable to develop political positions of any kind. We may lose track of which of the many outrages really matters to us and what it was that we felt so passionately about only hours ago.” The New York Times is diluting the news in shiny, trying to get people “addicted,” rather than trying to inform. It’s lost its way.

I use Flipboard to read the news on my iPhone and iPad. It’s not great – it doesn’t have as many good sources as I’d like – but at least it lets you read full articles and keep up with what’s going on. I’d very much like to have a single, reliable source to read the news, but with the current pricing, and the future dumbing down of the news, that source won’t be the New York Times.