Letter to the Editor: Keep The Daily totally free

Richard Reif

In response to columnist Alex Perry’s piece, “Paywall, Please:”

As a long-time Daily reader and Medill alumnus, I object to any plan for a Daily paywall, even on a limited basis. This would adversely affect some of the Northwestern community’s most vulnerable members, including low income students who struggle to pay for tuition, textbooks, meals, housing and other needs, even while receiving financial aid. 

Imposing an additional financial burden on these community members to get essential news would be unfair and increase the income inequality that exists at NU. Similarly, alumni who depend on The Daily as an information lifeline to our alma mater will also suffer. Many are retirees like me, living on fixed incomes who can’t afford any more media subscription costs.

Implementing a paywall could reduce total readership, which may lower ad revenues. Perry noted that some newspapers, such as The Toronto Globe and Mail and The New York Times have prospered from paywalls. So have The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. But paywalls don’t always work for newspapers that are not prestigious, global brand names. The Wall Street Journal’s sister publication, the New York Post, also published by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has no digital paywall. Its online edition depends solely on ad revenues. The print edition, reaching more than 230,000 daily readers, profits from ad and circulation revenues. 

Perry’s proposal also completely ignores The Daily’s print edition. Should readers pay for that as well?  The Daily also serves Evanston as the city’s only daily newspaper. Imposing a paywall would deprive low income and other marginalized residents of their most dependable local news source.

Perry points out the painful sacrifices in time and money that Daily staffers make to keep their newspaper running. Many of them are Medill students, attracted to NU by the journalism school’s world-class reputation. The Daily is not part of Medill. It operates as a separate entity to maintain editorial independence from NU’s administration. But what if it became part of Medill, with rigid firewalls set up to protect the publication’s editorial freedom? 

Medill’s budget could provide higher pay for The Daily’s staffers. Medill could also create journalism residency programs at The Daily, where students can earn degree credits while working three months there, just as they do for working at other media organizations.  This would require establishing strict safeguards to protect editorial integrity. That won’t be easy, but why not give it a try?

During my years as a Medill student, I relied on The Daily as an essential source of news. I still do as an alum, nearly 60 years later. So do thousands of other NU alums & current students. The Daily must remain free of charge to best serve our needs. I hope readers will consider my proposal and I invite your response.

If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.