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Seattle Times executive editor defends new subscription fees for website access

The Seattle Times announced it will soon begin charging digital subscriptions for online access to its content. ( Thomas)

Seattle Times executives are defending their decision to start charging for full access to the Times website.

“Our thinking, as has been the case with many newspapers around the country, is that we shouldn’t just give our content away free, particularly to those people who use us heavily,” said Seattle Times Executive Editor David Boardman in an interview Monday with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show.

The Times has taken plenty of heat in online comments since Boardman announced the move in a column Sunday. The newspaper plans to charge $.99 per week for the first month, then $3.99 per week after that. Current subscribers will get the digital subscription for free (including Sunday-only subscribers.)

“We have the largest newsroom in the Northwest, we produce by far the most volume. Much of what people hear on the radio and on television everyday begins with The Seattle Times and we think a large number of people will be willing to pay for that,” said Boardman.

Dori supported the move. “We need to find ways [to keep the Times healthy]. We’ve got a couple of reporters at our station who do great quality journalism, you guys obviously have a great track record of that and we need to find ways to keep all of that vital,” he said. But Dori wondered if most readers would be willing to pay, especially with so many online news sites to choose from.

“There’s no shortage of material out there,” Boardman said. “We take the position that there is a shortage of really high quality professional journalism that’s been fully reported, validated, that’s credible. It costs money to produce that as you well know,” Boardman said.

Despite the criticisms and threats many readers will likely stop visiting The Seattle Times website. But Boardman said research shows plenty of others, including younger people, will value the offerings enough to support it. He pointed to his own daughters, both in their 20’s, and their willingness to pay for digital content like The New York Times and Netflix.

The digital subscription isn’t a silver bullet to save the Times, Boardman said. Instead, it’s “just one piece of the puzzle” to keep the newspaper going.

“It’s one piece in an overall strategy in which we’re trying to get consumers and have successfully gotten consumers to pick up more of the fare for producing journalism. And we’re looking for a variety of new ways to serve advertisers as well,” he said.

Boardman promised that in addition to maintaining the Times’ current level of reporting quality, the organization plans to also improve its smartphone and tablet apps along with its website, which he points out was recently chosen one of the four best in the nation by the Online News Association.

The Seattle Times plans to launch the digital subscriptions in mid-March.

“It’ll just be another element in shoring up our business and ensuring its future,” Boardman said.

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