The Rising Price of Free

6 06 2007


By Derek Beres

Each morning as I descend the steps onto the PATH train in Jersey City, then again as I exit in New York City, and twice more entering and exiting subways – not to mention the attempted stop as I merely walk by one subway entrance en route to the Fulton St – I’m, for lack of a better term, assaulted by overconfident men and women trying to shove a copy of a daily newspaper into my hands. “It’s free!” is their battle cry, but each time I hear that slogan I think about how much it really costs.

A lot.

A few years ago, not one, but two dailies hit the streets of NYC: Metro and AM New York. Metro is an international effort published in three American cities, while AM NY is the free offshoot of Newsday. Both are similar in their USA Today-style approach to “news”: lots of pictures, big headlines and as few words as possible. Celebrity gossip takes as big a chunk as sports scores, while the one or two daily stories about something relevant to New Yorkers is placed front and center – the perfect layout for these paper’s actual missions. That is, advertising revenues.

Today’s edition, the one that set me over the edge to write this blog, was something I’ve seen a number of times: the front cover was not a news item, but a full-page Starbucks ad.

On their website, Metro states its claim: “Metro is a free daily newspaper written and designed for young and ambitious professionals. It fits into a 15-minute read and gives metropolitans all they need to know, Monday to Friday, in their morning commutes.”

If the latest Jessica Alba wardrobe and a calculator figuring out how long a hotel heiress will be behind bars is all I need to know, I’m either in great shape, or a lot of trouble. I’m guessing the latter.

Perhaps it is just me, someone that likes content and meaning to what is labeled news. USA Today became the “nation’s number one newspaper” (in circulation) because it did what other newspapers were scared to do: include full-color graphics, lots of pie charts and photos, less content and more pictures. It appealed to the laziness in its readership, and won their hearts. In the wake of that mid-’90s debacle, nearly every media outlet has followed suit.

Most distressing is the aggressiveness of the vendors. After attempting to shove the paper into your hand and you refusing, they then take offense. After the aforementioned battle cry quiets, they continue blocking the entrance to the subways and PATH trains. A friend of mine was once employed to ride the light rail to “check up” on each distributor and make sure they were actively pimping the papers. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. And I’m left to wonder what really is free in this world, as its certainly not these gossip columns disguised as news, nor the undeniably large number of commuters who take that as their actual media source. But hey, Paris certainly tastes best with a double-shot latte.



One response

20 06 2007
brooklyn james

I know what you mean, but let’s face it: most newspapers are stupid. In NYC, I’m talking especially about the Post and the News, of course. I’m not even bringing up TV (or blogs).

All that said, it should be noted that Metro is spunky — it regularly breaks news in New York City. And it’s not afraid to take shots at the high and mighty.

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