An Ethical Issue: The Baltimore Sun's one-cent subscription promotion

The Baltimore Sun is offering a year’s subscription to its weekend papers for one cent, in an effort to boost circulation numbers and attract more advertising revenue. Even if you only want the coupons from the advertising flyers, it sounds like a great deal.

“But,” my brother-in-law, Robert Frezza, writes, “I would be killing trees.” 

He continues:

Even if I recycle papers to keep from clogging up the landfills, the environmental costs of washing the ink out of the newsprint and reusing it are incredibly high. Even for a penny, I am not sure that buying a print newspaper is an environmentally responsible thing to do, especially if I don’t really plan to read it.

Sigh! Help me in my unbelief.

Robert gave me permission to quote from his e-mail.

Here’s how I responded:

I don’t think that even “selling” subscriptions for a penny is going to prop up the business model of print journalism for very long. Many of my journalism students think of TV as the “default” format for news, or so I gather when they say they are not up on current events because they don’t have time to “watch the news.”

My father would pick up The Washington Post at the bottom of our driveway on his way to work, and bring it back at the end of each day.  I remember John sitting in the chair in the living room, carefully sifting through each section and dropping it in a pile on the floor.  But when we moved to Pennsylvania a few years ago we accepted a promotion for a few free months of free weekend papers, and I asked myself why I was bothering to look through it, since I already had read most of it online.

If you want to support good journalism, and a cause, what if you got a group of like-minded friends to agree, instead of birthday gifts or next year’s Christmas cards, to buy each other photos from The Sun’s coverage of a particular issue that you care about?

(A photo is about $15-20 on The Sun’s site… A box of 12 greeting cards with a front page of your choice on the cover is about the same. Not cheap, but more ethical than wasting hundreds of dollars of printing and delivery expenses. The cost might be worth the message it sends to the paper, that there’s an audience for quality reporting on the issues you care about.)

Or write a letter to the editor praising a particular journalist or columnist’s work.

What do you think? Is a year’s worth of future landfill worth a penny?