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?

2 thoughts on “An Ethical Issue: The Baltimore Sun's one-cent subscription promotion

  1. Good point, Michael. (And Merry Christmas, by the way.)
    I use Flashblock (which blocks all Flash windows unless I choose to play them, either individually or on a site-wide basis) and Adblock Plus, which gives me a lot more control over my browsing experience. I regularly switch back and forth between Mac and PC, and both versions of Firefox work equally well.
    And if you find a good RSS reader, or find the mobile feed for your favorite website, you can read a plainer version of the articles (without all the cruft that comes with the advertising).
    The day I saw Google News ( I lost all allegience to any particular organization as the source of breaking news; now I actively seek out multiple versions of a breaking story, from multiple sources. But when I want insight and context, I will turn to a handful of trusted sources.

  2. The Washington Post is (in my opinion) an excellent newspaper and source of in-depth coverage which you do not get from watching the news on TV. However, reading on-line is a pain because I have to wait and wade through advertisements which block articles until posted. I would rather use my subscription $$ to receive an add-less or an add-on-side format than have the paper delivered to me.
    Of course, if this is about the environment … which is more environmentally friendly? The recycled newspaper costs + paper + ink or the electricity needed to power the reading of the newspaper? I presume the electricity may be more environmentally friendly but a total cost analysis would be needed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *