The words I write here are free. Whether you picked up The Michigan Daily somewhere on campus or you clicked to my column on the Daily website, you get a taste of my immense wisdom for free. And I consider myself a talented writer and thinker. Lucky you.

I have a friend. She works for The New York Times, and as of today, her words are no longer free. She’s smart, talented and a very good journalist, but to echo the words of all those people who are decrying the imposition of the Times’s paywall, I ask one simple question: Why would you pay for her words when you can have mine for free?

The answer is simple, of course, but allow me to illustrate. I begin by quoting almost verbatim an online conversation I had with this friend of mine last week:

Friend: So The Times paywall goes up soon.
me: really? too bad
Friend: No, this is good for those of us who make money over here in the newspaper business…
me: whatever
Friend: It’s really not a bad deal.
me: I’m sure huffpo will summarize it all for me
Friend: You get the first 20 articles a month free, and then you can pay for a pretty cheap subscription. Also, if you enter the site through a link elsewhere, you won’t be bumped, even if you meet the 20 story minimum.
me: Daily Beast is still free? then i’m set
Friend: You’re the worst journalist ever.
me: um, duh. so i gotta pay to see the caucus blog too?
Friend: Yes, I believe so.
me: psh, screw that. you should transfer. maybe drudge report?
Friend: I’m not dignifying this with a response.
me: be cool now. just because your profession is dying doesn’t mean you can be angry with me
Friend: My profession isn’t dying.
me: DEAD

Facetiousness aside, my friend is right, of course. The New York Times should get money for the reporting its journalists do. Good reporting entails many costs of production. And while I like to think I occasionally have great insights on national and international issues, I’m among the large group of secondary producers of journalism — those who borrow the facts uncovered by national news organizations like the Times and use that as the basis of their own writing and contributions. (I don’t mean to disparage the work of the Daily’s own reporters, who do an excellent job of gathering their own facts about local issues. I speak here only of myself.)

I borrowed my friend’s words to literally fill my column this time to prove a point: We borrow wisdom from the real journalists all the time. Whether its amateur columnists like me or the professional copy-and-pasters at news aggregation sites like The Drudge Report or The Huffington Post, we depend on others to do the digging for us and then neatly package and present it to our own readers for free.

For all the talk of the death of newspapers in the digital age, it’s important to never forget one thing: Secondary producers of news — those blogs and quick-hit news sites we all browse — are not self-sustaining. If real news organizations like the Times disappeared, The Drudge Report would have nothing to report. And I could sit here and guess how that whole Japan thing is going down, but without the reports of the journalists actually on the ground, I wouldn’t have any actual facts to work with.

So let’s all pipe down about the Times’s paywall, OK? Like books, CDs, movies, etc., real journalism is a created product that involves costs of labor, time and insight. The Times isn’t the first organization to institute a paywall, and it certainly won’t be the last. Soon, once other major publications are no longer free, readers will have a simple choice: Either pay the nominal subscription fee to get real news, or be content with borrowed wisdom from the likes of me.

And I recommend that you pay the fee and stick with the professionals because, with that paywall up, who knows where the hell I’ll be getting my facts.

Imran Syed can be reached at

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