NYT does not open paywall for Bin Laden news

When The New York Times launched its metered paywall in March, it built into its new system the ability to turn the paywall off for must-read, breaking news stories, to ensure a “flexible” system, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. said at the time.

Last night’s news about Osama bin Laden’s death would seem to fit into the must-read, breaking news category, yet it remained behind the paywall, the Nieman Journalism Lab reported today.

The reason The Times decided to not open the gates is that the story broke the first day of May when non-subscribers’ monthly 20-article count was reset to zero, and most non-subscribers would not run into the paywall. However, the surge in traffic to the site on Sunday night also caused a problem for about half an hour, during which people who were not logged in couldn’t read articles, according to AdAge.

However, the main question is whether the news of bin Laden would have caused the paywall to open if it had been announced later in the month.

“The notion of stories that are so big that they shouldn’t be paid for — or, more accurately, so big that the Times shouldn’t require people to pay for them — is a complicated, but also crucial, one, particularly considering the careful balance the Times has struck between business interest and public interest in its rhetoric about its pay scheme,” Nieman Lab’s Megan Garber opined.

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