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'New York Times' Rolls Out Online Paywall

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

The New York Times has twice experimented with making some readers pay for online content, and twice it's backed away. This morning, Times executives announced they would make the most loyal readers pay to access their website, though a lot of casual readers would not pay a cent.

NPR: Get people to pay for online news.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Janet Robinson is the CEO of the New York Times Company. She tells NPR these changes are a reflection of how people now consume the news.

JANET ROBINSON: We have to be agnostic in regard to how people digest the news product. We can't force them to buy a print subscription, we can't force them to buy a digital application. We have to be there in every venue.

FOLKENFLIK: Times Publisher and Board Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s family has controlled the paper for more than a century. He says this new hybrid pricing system will help pay for the Times's robust journalism in a new age.

ARTHUR SULZBERGER JR: We did not - any of us - feel that putting up an iron gate, if you will, that cuts you out of the digital ecosystem, made any sense at all. So this is about balance.

FOLKENFLIK: Emily Bell was the director of digital content for the Guardian in the U.K., and she's now the director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. She says most online readers will still have free access to the website.

EMILY BELL: They're very sensible not to put the wall across the front of the house. I think that the New York Times is trying harder to make sure that it still is part of the Web.

FOLKENFLIK: But Bell argues that the Times squandered money and energy better spent creating other revenue streams instead.

BELL: And that, I think, is the real tragedy of it, that it's become a dominant strategy for people to examine and pursue. And it's too expensive, and it returns too little - and it actually hastens decline.

FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.