After a year of uncertainty, The New York Times Readership Program is here to stay—at least for now. A $20,000 donation from an anonymous donor will keep the program afloat for the next two years.
The program was put in jeopardy last year when the administration decided to stop funding it due to the economic crisis. In the past, the Offices of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs would contribute $10,000 combined, while the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) footed the remaining $15,000. This year, the administration, unable to contribute its share, helped to secure a donor to take its place.
Because of a price increase to the program—the third in one and a half years—only 400 papers will be delivered to the University each morning Monday through Friday, at a cost of $24,500. In previous years, as many as 700 copies were available to students. Last spring that number dropped to 350 copies and distribution to Summerfields and Fisk Hall was discontinued—this year, the two distribution points have been restored.
Staff and faculty are being asked not to take any papers because of the reduced numbers and the fact that this year’s program is not being funded by the administration.
“[The program is] now funded for students from the students’ activity fee and the WSA budget, by students,” said Becky Weiss ’10, Chair of the Organization and External Affairs Committee of the WSA, which is in charge of the Readership Program. “We have sent e-mails to all faculty and staff asking them not to take the papers.”
Professor of Sociology Charles Lemert, who currently gets The New York Times via home delivery, said he believes that the Times is a valuable teaching tool and is considering requiring his students to read the Times. Lemert said the new restriction placed on staff and faculty is not his biggest concern.
“Faculty subscription to the Times is almost cheaper than toilet paper,” he said. “The thing that’s upsetting is that probably even with 400 [copies], there are so many left over at the end of the day.”
A survey by the WSA, however, paints a different picture. In the survey that was part of last week’s elections, students were asked whether or not they read the copies of the Times on campus. Of the respondents 75.4 percent said they read the supplied Times and 49.3 percent of that group said they read it daily.
According to Michael Whaley, Vice President for Student Affairs, the University has been gradually reducing funding from the Office of Student Affairs.
“When Student Affairs had to begin reducing our operating budget five years ago, we agreed to a multi-year ‘ramp down’ in support from our budget with the expectation that the WSA would increase support over time if the program was to continue,” he said in an e-mail to The Argus.
According to Whaley, the Readership Program was started long ago when home delivery to the area did not exist and the Times’ online website was not as robust. He cited increasing prices and the availability of a free and more environmentally friendly online edition for the decision to cut funding.
“The program is a nice amenity, but not critical to students’ critical or co-curricular experience,” he said.
But students say that having a print copy of the Times offers a unique experience.
“It’s really something different,” said Daniel DeBonis ’12. “I know when I’m reading online, I tend to skip a lot of things. When you have the actual print edition it’s much easier to comprehend.”
However, reading the New York Times online may not remain free for long. Despite unsuccessfully erecting a pay wall in 2005 for its premium content through TimeSelect, the Times may start charging for its online content as early as this fall, according to the Associated Press.
The newspaper industry, which has seen advertising revenues decline over recent years, is exploring ways to charge for their online news. A recent study by the American Press Institute, based on the interviews of 118 newspaper executives in the U.S. and Canada, shows that 58 percent of responding newspapers are considering charging for online content. Of that group, 22 percent aim to install fees by the year’s end. In addition, major technology companies like Google and Microsoft have said they are looking to develop feasible online payment systems for newspaper publishers.
Christian Morehouse ’11, who takes the art section five days a week for the crossword puzzle, likes the fact that the print edition unplugs people from their gadgets.
“It’s actually nice to have it like this, without everyone on their computers,” he said. “You can sit outside on the hill and read it.”
For David Baranger ’10, the Times serves as a link to the world beyond campus.
“It’s really easy to fall into the Wesleyan bubble and be very isolated and uninformed of what’s actually happening, said David Baranger ’10. “No offense, but The Argus doesn’t replace The New York Times.”