Strange isn’t it, the quotes that cling to you. In August 2009, the New York Times rightly asked: “What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper?“—when many reputable reporting organizations contemplated erecting paywalls after too long bleeding advertising revenues to the Google Free Economy. Journalist Michael Sokolove interviewed Brian Tierney, who then led a group trying to salvage two major dailies following bankruptcy: “He wants to begin charging for online content. As he told me this, he banged a bagel on a conference table, which sounded like a rock as it hit. ‘You hear that?’ This bagel stinks, he said. ‘It’s got the same consistency inside and out, but if you went down to our cafeteria, it costs like $1.25. That’s what people pay for stuff like this, so you mean to tell me I can’t get them to pay that for online access to all the incredible stuff in The Inquirer and Daily News online? People who say that all this content wants to be free aren’t paying talented people to create it'”.
Perhaps because I am a working journalist, or maybe being someone who seeks news that he can trust, the sources most valuable to me aren’t free. I pay for them—and in putting together a list, much more than expected. But before continuing, qualification: I started to draft this post in September 2015, coming back many times with intention to complete—only to perennially procrastinate. Perhaps I subconsciously intuited that my main news sources would dramatically change, as they have following Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential election victory.
If nothing else, the Commander-in-Chief deserves praise for busting down the paywall barrier. His attacks against mainstream media—paired with so-called “fake news” stories swirling around both presidential candidates, and the controversies that followed—stirred the news consuming masses out of their “slurp-it-for-free”, brainless states to seek refugee behind fortress paywall. Living there ain’t free, unlike residence in the Google economy shanty town. (Yeah, yeah, those metaphors mix poorly. So slap me.) For example, this week, the Guardian revealed reaching 200,000 members and 185,000 subscribers. The New York Times added 276,000 digital-only subscribers during fourth quarter 2016. Maybe, because of the Trump presidency, there is a viable business model yet for the Fourth Estate.
I am a long-time paid, news consumer. Welcome to all you freeloaders finally ponying to support (and produce) valuable content. But post-presidential election, some of my subscriptions changed, and I largely abandoned several beloved ad-supported news sites read for free. Trump—or more aptly, newsrooms’ reaction to him—compelled this personal realignment. Politically, I am non-partisan. Professionally, I resist—no, reject—news organizations that advocate agendas under the guise of impartiality. No news is faker. Bias and advocacy journalism pollute the Fourth Estate. Bully pulpits do not serve the public interest. Editors and reporters who act like they know better, don’t. I am appalled by the anti-Trump stances taken by the New York Times and Washington Post, for example.
The Post is hostile in fashion that pretends to be investigative, Watergate-like reporting in the worst ways. My all-digital subscription—super bargain at $29 per year—won’t be renewed in August, unless editorial tone changes. I am not some right-wing nutcase who supports the president and, doing so, cannot accept negative news about him. My problem is trust. I don’t trust the Post’s reporting—a change in attitude that started soon after the real estate mogul won the Republican party’s nomination. The newspaper’s editorial tone turned combative.
The Times’ tone is better balanced, but biased nevertheless. I cancelled my all-digital access subscription on Dec. 30, 2016. I had subscribed either in print or online since 2000. Yeah. I also gave up a relatively good rate ($1.88 weekly). If I were to sign up now, cost would be staggering $6.25 per week billed monthly, or $195 paid annually ($3.75 weekly).
Among ad-supported, free-access news services, Mother Jones, OZY, and Vice are no longer regular reads, but not outcasts—although I remain committed to Vice Video and its immersive journalism storytelling. My problem with these three, and others: Too much Trump; I expect their tone to be more left-leaning, which is unchanged post-election. My problem is lopsided-coverage. Surely, there is other, compelling investigations to pursue in the public interest other than Donald Trump! Must we read about him so goddamn much?
The remnants of Gawker, now Gizmodo Media Group, bears anti-Trump tone similar to the Washington Post, but with punchier headlines and cleverly-crafted snark. The reporting isn’t as good, however, replaced with hostile advocacy and commentary.
I rarely read BuzzFeed or Huffington Post, nor do I look to social media. Meaning: Facebook and Twitter aren’t places I go for news, if anything at all. Nor should you. That said, Reddit rises on my information radar.
First off, I typically consume news on 9.7-inch iPad Pro, starting with the free stuff as appetizers: Personally curated RSS subs in Feedly kicks off, followed by Apple News, which is an app I would recommend to everyone. Presentation is fantastic and reading is highly immersive. My news consumption is way up simply because of the Apple app. News sources are varied and delicious, and it’s in the app I read stories from BBC, Quartz, and other for-free sites (hence, why they aren’t separately mentioned). Next to the web browser, I use no app more than Apple News, which every iPhone owner should at least try out. BTW, I often ride an indoor bicycle to burn calories while reading anything on the tablet.
From the appetizers, I proceed to the main meal, where reading often is more deliberate, or expansive, whether in select subscription services’ apps, print publications, or websites. I present these morsels alphabetically.
Economist. I am a long-time subscriber, who no longer receives the physical product. The iPad app soundly meets my needs, backed up by the website—to which I go to occasionally. I largely treat the weekly as such. All-digital subscription currently costs $152 yearly, which is $25 more than what I paid in August 2016 and $40 more than 2015. Yikes!
Trust rating: High. Stories are authoritative, accurate, and authentic. The Economist also profoundly presents global news and analysis. There are no bylines, which emphasizes editorial over personalities. Superb!
Guardian. I had long wanted to subscribe, but the high price put me off. But there now is another option: Membership, which, in the United States, costs either $6.99 monthly or $69 annually. I chose the latter, signing up on Dec. 22, 2016 and later forgoing my welcome kit, when offered opportunity. The UK-based paper is one of my two primary paid news sources. The iPad app presentation is lively but clean. Both the New York Times and Washington Post could learn something from the Guardian about online or in-app presentation. Clutter is toxic.
Trust rating: High. Stories are authoritative, accurate, and authentic. Members get access to extras. Editorial and commentary are clearly demarcated and, thus, not easily confused.
Mother Jones. Hmmm. My subscription to the magazine lapses in a few months, and I lean towards renewal despite my dissatisfaction with the website’s Trump obsession. MJ investigative reports are fine journalism, which present better in print than online. Assuming resubscribing, I will opt for the magazine (six issues yearly) and digital access, which costs the same as either separately: $12.
Trust rating: High for the quality of news reporting but moderate when considering advocacy and low for the torrent of Trump commentary. That said, Mother Jones is excellent example of a news organization that identifies a clear audience and writes for it. If you’re left-leaning and anti-Trump, you can trust MJ.
National Geographic. If you’d asked me two years ago about Nat’l Geo, news reporting wouldn’t come to mind. The magazine is about long-form around-the-globe cultural, environmental, and natural expedition stories punctuated by fantastic photos or maps. But surprisingly, there is insightful news, too, that rises above the rabble. I started subscribing, after a long lapse, in August 2015 to support reporting on the organization’s website. My digital-and-print sub—$24 for 12 months—expires in July. Renewal is certain.
Trust rating: High. Stories are authoritative, accurate, and authentic. The magazine’s original content is exceptional, while website news nuggets and perspectives are fresh and sensible.
Nature. I am a science geek. The biweekly journal is an irresistible indulgence. Until last year, I had a $35 (and some change) annual iPad subscription, which no longer is available. Print typically costs $199 yearly, but when I made the switch, Nature offered a deal: $70 for 12 months magazine and online access. I generally read the magazine, punctuated by some website content.
Trust rating: High. News stories are informative, while the scholarly reports are in-depth and, presumably, peer reviewed. Bonus: One of the few publications where Trump is not dominant topic.
New Yorker. Among my existing subscriptions, this is the longest uninterrupted (after cancelling the New York Times). I restarted the magazine in 2008 for $29.99 yearly. My current print and digital sub, expiring in December, cost $69.99—if I rightly recall. Current price is $99.99, or $10 less when taking either print or digital separately.
I rarely read the physical magazine, preferring the iPad app instead. I like the New Yorker for long-form commentaries, analyses, and reviews. I never read the fiction (mmm, dunno why).
Trust rating: Moderate to high, depending on story style. While I trust the magazine’s fact-checking, editorial tone is nevertheless liberally leaning, which introduces some bias and advocacy journalism. That said, the writing is exceptional; the New Yorker is a must-read for anyone wanting to write well.
ProPublica. The online-only, non-profit news site bills itself as “journalism in the public interest”. But ProPublica’s pro forma excellence is data journalism; the category is growing, and no newsroom anywhere does DJ better. Last week’s long-form report “What Hospitals Waste” is fine example of ProPublica’s editorial strengths, bringing together traditional, thorough investigative reporting with data mining.
(I shot the Featured Image—chosen in support of the Waste story—at Scripps Mercy Hospital, in San Diego’s Hillcrest district, on Feb. 19, 2017 at 1:06 p.m. PST, using iPhone 7 Plus. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 40, 1/30 sec, 3.99mm. In post-production, I applied Cross Balance filter using Color Efex Pro 4 from the Google Nik collection.)
Yesterday, after more than a year’s absence, I started donating again—meager $10 per-month commitment, and nowhere near the reporting’s value. Here’s the thing: While so many newsrooms are unbalanced following Trump’s victory, ProPublica’s editorial stance is improved. The reporting is superlative. That’s the kind of journalism worth paying for.
Trust rating: High. ProPublica produces some of the best, investigative, original reporting anywhere. News stories are authoritative, accurate, authentic, and data-driven. The non-profit truly lives up to its tagline, by many measures. That includes extending news beyond the initial reporting by making data available to the public, such as Vital Signs, which provides comparative information about health-care providers.
Rolling Stone. After years of separate print and online subscriptions, digital is now a benefit with the monthly magazine. So, when renewing last April, I paid $49.95 for 24 months to get both. The iPad app is cramped on the 9.7-inch slate; as such, more often I read the hard copy or website.
Trust rating: Moderate to high, depending on story style. Long-form stories are authentic and authoritative. While I trust the magazine’s fact-checking—despite the “Rape on Campus” retraction—editorial tone is nevertheless liberally leaning, which, like the New Yorker, introduces some bias and advocacy journalism. But the latter is often some of the magazine’s best reading, such as the insightful, colorful prose of Matt Taibbi.
Vanity Fair. The monthly magazine produces some of the best, long-form, authoritatively reported and convincingly written stories anywhere. I started subscribing in 2013, paying $15 for the first year. My current print sub, which includes all-digital access, is $20. I typically read the monthly edition on iPad, bypassing print’s pages of advertising to more easily get to the editorial content.
Content also populates Apple News, and Vanity Fair distributes one of the best news media email newsletters. The headlines and deks demand attention and generate my clicks from the inbox.
Trust rating: High. Stories are authoritative, accurate, and authentic. Original content is plentiful. There’s a Trump agenda, but it’s clear and not overwhelming. Meaning: There is plenty of great content that has nothing to do with presidential politics.
Wall Street Journal. Along with the Guardian, WSJ is my most read and trusted paid source of meaningful news—and costliest. I first subscribed to the digital edition in 1996, for $49 yearly. Seriously! My account is so ancient, I have a username rather than email address as user identity. I paid through 2012, then cancelled because of rising costs. Last year, I took advantage of an Election 2016 special: six months for $87 for all-digital access. Renewal was a bust, however, with a representative offering $98.97 for three months. That’s $395.88 per year! I pleaded for a deal and got one that wasn’t low enough: $130.44 for six months. I cancelled. Again.
But then Apple News reunited me with the Journal. News reporting and the continual amount of well-written, interesting content rapt my attention. I wanted more! Eleven days ago, I contacted Dow Jones subscriber services seeking a reasonable rate. There is none, but I nevertheless ponied $197.94 for a year’s digital sub. On the website, best deal is 30-percent discounted annual rate of $278.
In less than two weeks, the Wall Street Journal has become of my two most-trusted newsrooms. I generally read the iPad edition, which is crisp and clean but nowhere as lively as my other favorite—the Guardian. Headlines generally use active verbs, which is how I would write them.
Trust rating: High. Stories are authoritative, accurate, and authentic. Original analysis is plentiful and provocative. Editorial content and commentary are clearly demarcated, so there is no confusion.