How many subscriptions can I afford?

The news that Andrew Sullivan — in many senses the pre-eminent political blogger of the format’s brief history — is going to a pay model has forced me to do some thinking.

I like Andrew’s blog. He’s one of those truly gifted analysts and writers who is often able to express common-sense thinking better than the rest of us, helping us put words to our thoughts. At the same time, I don’t spend hours on the blog every day. He branches out beyond politics, which I appreciate, but I still have plenty of days in which I’d like to have no politics on my mind. Sanity preservation and so forth. (Same reason I don’t watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every day, brilliant as they are.)

It’s not just about one blog, of course. It’s about the number of subscriptions you can keep. 

My current list, though I’m probably forgetting something:

Sports Illustrated. I can justify it as a work expense.

– ESPN, magazine and Insider web. Ditto. I work for them from time to time — you’d think I’d get it free or at least be able to barter it for some work.

Soccer America. Mostly for the e-newsletters.

Wired. Comes with my mediabistro.com account. Might reconsider this one. It used to be a fascinating look at technology’s progress. Now it’s getting a little drearier and argumentative.

– Spotify. Gotta have music. 

– Amazon Prime. Probably. I have a free month, and I’m likely to keep it. Like Wired/mediabistro, this is more complicated than a simple subscription — it also includes shipping discounts.

Then one more for the household: Weekend Washington Post delivery. And my wife gets a couple more magazines I occasionally peruse.

With the Kindle, it’s tempting to add so many more. Rolling Stone online? Possibly. I used to get The Economist as a gift, and I felt guilty that the unfinished magazines would pile up — as an online subscriber, I’d feel free to check in on my own time and not waste so much paper.

Then there’s the New York Times site, whose model is brilliant: 10 free articles a month (more if you’re following links from somewhere), then a subscription. Don’t you hate getting the “this is your final article this month” notice on the 15th of a given month?

So in terms of adding another subscription, I have a lot of competition. The New York Times. Andrew Sullivan. The Economist. Rolling Stone. I’m even getting blocked when I try to read Philip Hersh’s Olympic-sports column at the Chicago Tribune.

But wait, there’s more. We have cable. We don’t get any of the full-fledged pay channels (HBO, Showtime), but we get a couple of tiers for sports and variety. Gotta have Fox Soccer. Still waiting on beIN Sport and Universal Sports. Any day now, local cable provider.

Last but not least, in the past year, we’ve seen the launch of two extravagant soccer magazines. XI Quarterly did a Kickstarter campaign and produced a brilliant first issue. But it’s Howler magazine that seems to have all the hip media connections, getting mentioned in the New Yorker (or at least on its site) and in SI’s best-of-2012 media roundup.

Their price tags? $15 per issue. But you can subscribe annually for $45 or $50.

Being a magnanimous person — or at least a guilt-ridden writer who knows he sometimes has to ask people to pay up for his work as well (Long-Range Goals is now available on Kindle for just $10.33, you cheapskates!) — I’d like to subscribe to all of this great stuff. I’m not one of these people who surfs the Web with ad blockers and complains about Facebook ads as if we’re entitled to consume limitless content while someone else pays for the servers and occasionally the writers and editors.

But should I pay $20 a year for Andrew Sullivan’s blog? Or $15 per issue of a glossy soccer mag (Howler) or a literary soccer mag (XI Quarterly)? What’s a cost-conscious reader to do? Can I just look at your ads?


CNN, The Supreme Court and health care: The race to be first claims another victim

Andrew Sullivan may be the quintessential blogger, giving us the mix of news, analysis and link-sharing to show us what the medium is capable of doing. No exception today, as he live-blogged the ruling and added some insights from himself and others.

And he doesn’t mind pointing out where others — not just the usual political blowhards, but CNN and Fox — are getting it wrong:

11.43 am. Cable news needs to shut itself down. They failed high school newspaper tests this morning. There’s no excuse whatsoever. They really ought to be ashamed. Covering live events is all they’re really good for any more, if you are not partial to screeching propaganda or pure CNN tedium. And they even (bleep) that up – in a way many pajama-clad amateurs didn’t.

And he’s right, for the most part.

Court opinions can’t always be summarized in a few seconds. Taking the time to read the equivalent of “the mandate isn’t allowed under the Commerce Clause, but because of X, Y and Z, it’s OK to enforce with a tax” is essential. With all due modesty, a then-young grad student at Duke figured all this out more than a decade ago.

And yet some people never learn. Check out Bloomberg’s attempt to take credit for “beating” AP.

It was also, as Sullivan implies with his “pajama-clad amateurs” a good day for some bloggers. Particularly SCOTUSblog, which kept up a tremendous blow-by-blow account as it went through the opinions.

Not that Sullivan’s blog or SCOTUSblog are run by “pajama-clad amateurs.” SCOTUSblog is, ironically, sponsored by Bloomberg Law. Sullivan is now essentially part of Newsweek.

What we’re really seeing here is the blurring of media types. A “blog” is simply a publishing tool. A professional lawyer with some plain-English writing skills may technically be an “amateur” journalist, but that’s meaningless. And when a group like SCOTUSblog takes it time to get it right in a fully transparent way, the medium is working.

What I hope in the long run for journalism is this:

1. We need to keep the news-gathering infrastructure alive. That’s the sad part of CNN’s disaster today. As my fellow USA TODAY alum A.J. Perez said, CNN has bet it all on broadcasting news rather than opinion, and they were already losing that bet before today.

2. We need more people like Sullivan who aren’t beholden to a particular point of view. Sullivan is conservative, though perhaps not in the 2012 Tea Party sense of the word. I love his catchphrase “Biased and Balanced.”

Coincidentally, someone has insisted to me recently that Fox is more honest than other media because it’s honest about its agenda. I can’t accept that. For one thing, it assumes everyone has an agenda other than news-gathering, and I can tell you from 20 years of experience that isn’t true. For another, it’s too simple to say “left” will report “left” and “right” will report “right.”

An institution like Fox that brings the bias from on high through newsroom memos. An individual like Sullivan can be up front about his views (and prove that he’s not beholden to those who share at least a few of them). Newsroom bias is far more complicated.

The bottom line: We need a diversity of honest voices. We need them to compete in ways other than speed-reading and typing.

And then we need someone to pay for it all.

Simple, right?