Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm fine with The New Republic restricting some of its articles to subscribers, but . . .

. . . this article is exactly the wrong one to hide from public view.

It's the top article on TNR's website today, and here's the homepage teaser:

Give Obama a Break: Presidents Don't Have Magic Powers That Clean up Oil Spills
Yet when you click through, you'll see only the first two paragraphs, which just introduce the idea that people expect Obama to be (as an article in the libertarian Reason magazine put it) "'a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise.'"

There's no substantive pay-off, as the actual point of the article is hidden from the public. I have access to the following text (by Jonathan Chait) only because I subscribe to TNR:
In reality, the federal government has no agency tasked with capping undersea oil leaks. All the necessary equipment, along with the expertise for operating it, resides with the private sector. Moreover, since BP will likely bear the full cost of the spill, it has every incentive to deploy its equipment as aggressively as possible. I have seen nobody even attempt to argue, in either practical or theoretical terms, that the government could do a better job of plugging the leak. The demand that Obama solve the problem is not an argument but an emotional state. To accept that Obama is not the man who will plug the hole or fail to do so would be like plunking down ten dollars to see Superman at the Cineplex only to watch Jimmy Olsen save the world. . . .

Conservative critics have leapt upon the image of a hamstrung Obama to discredit the president and activist government. . . .

Of course, neither Obama nor liberals in general believe that government has limitless powers or responsibilities. . . . The intellectual task of liberalism is not to make government responsible for everything. It is to rationally determine which things cannot be handled by the private sector. No less than the dogmatic anti-statism of the right, the cult of the presidency is an enemy of that task.
That's the kind of well-reasoned, empirically grounded argument that I read The New Republic for. And it's clearly meant to drive public opinion in the relatively short term. It's the kind of piece that TNR should really want as many people as possible to read.

Of course, they want all their pieces read by a lot of people. But an article on Obama's responsibility for the oil spill one has an urgency that's not present in, say, this other article that's currently featured on TNR's homepage, which is free to the public:
Will I Miss the Feel of Books? Yes. Will I Get Over It? Yes.
Here's my message to TNR, as a loyal subscriber: If you have to put some articles behind a pay wall out of economic necessity, I understand and respect this. But please, try to put the articles that are most in need of being read by large numbers of people in full public view.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

"...try to put the articles that are most in need of being read by large numbers of people in full public view..."

Those are the ones that the magazine is most likely to put behind the pay wall. Since they have the strongest immediate appeal, they're the ones customers are most likely to be willing to pay for.

John Althouse Cohen said...

That makes a certain amount of rational, economic sense, but it goes against TNR's goal of influencing public opinion and discourse.

Anyway, it's not really accurate about how they run the site. Their most timely content tends to be on their blogs, and those are all free.

I doubt that they really think keeping Chait's oil spill article in particular from showing up in full online will lure anyone to subscribe to TNR. My guess is that they've made a sensible decision that "We're going to put some but not all of our articles behind a paywall," but they just haven't thought very carefully about which ones those should be.