Occidental transitions to a digital subscription to the New York Times

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The empty New York Times news rack between all of the barren news racks outside of the Postal Operations - Johnson Student Center at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Amirah Al-Sagr/The Occidental

The Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) voted Oct. 15 to convert Occidental’s subscription of The New York Times (NYT) from paper copies to a digital subscription. Previously, the school-wide subscription provided 35 daily copies of the paper that were distributed among the three stands at the Green Bean, the Tiger Cooler and the Academic Commons. The proposition to switch to a campus-wide digital subscription was requested by the Dean of Students’ office, according to Jordan Walker (senior), ASOC vice president of financial affairs.

Walker said the Dean of Students’ office would only continue to fund the subscription to NYT if it became digital, causing Walker to research the cost of a digital subscription.

Walker sent a campus-wide email Oct. 31 notifying students that there will no longer be print copies of the NYT available on campus. In his email, Walker wrote that the 35 print copies delivered per day to campus was not enough to satisfy more than 2,000 students.

A school-wide subscription to the NYT was a part of President Veitch’s initiative to increase media literacy on campus. Since then, reading printed copies of the NYT has become somewhat of a ritual for some students on campus.

Stephanie Malter (senior), an avid NYT reader and crossword puzzle enthusiast, feels her morning routine has been disrupted.

“I really don’t feel like there’s a valid reason for them not to be giving us physical copies because personally, I’m a senior and we’ve had them every single year,” Malter said. “I have consistently done the crossword every morning, and it’s a small thing, but it brings a lot of joy.”

Malter saw the copies as a small courtesy and was grateful Occidental provided them.

“How many small things is the school giving us for free?” Malter said. “It was one of the few things that Oxy would give us that was like, ‘Here, have this, and no, we’re not going to charge you some amount of money.’ I just appreciate it.”

Writing & Rhetoric professor Robert Sipchen, a career journalist, editor at the Los Angeles Times and former communications director for the Sierra Club, believes the school should provide both print and digital subscriptions to the NYT as well as the LA Times.

“Occidental, if it really sees itself as it says it does — as an integral part of Los Angeles — should be giving digital subscriptions to the LA Times. The New York Times does a lousy job of covering Los Angeles,” Sipchen said. “Students and professors need both.”

According to Rory Hayes (junior), who said they have a personal fondness for the printed newspaper, library workers are now responsible for distributing Occidental’s single printed copy of the daily NYT.

Hayes said that the copy is difficult to check in and out for a number of students, with heavy fees being applied if the copy is returned late. On a personal level, Hayes said they find the idea of having one printed copy for over 2,000 students to be ridiculous.

“I was working an opening shift and I think that my boss just misplaced the newspaper, but she was like, ‘Somebody stole the paper, somebody stole the Times,’” Hayes said.

The single copy has been a source of contention for library employees and students alike. Hayes said the process by which circulation desk workers check the copy in and out is difficult and often results in students receiving unnecessary fines. Malter said she has fallen victim to this process.

“The people at the front desk know me because I come in every single morning and check it out and because sometimes there’s an error or something, I’ve been charged $80,” Malter said. “I’ve gotten a refund and it’s been voided or whatever, they’ve figured it out, but I have to constantly deal with getting emails saying that I didn’t turn it in. That kind of stuff happens when you’re consistently checking things out from a desk.”

According to Walker, the new digital subscription will benefit students all year round.

“I think digital subscriptions are better because you can access it from your phones or computers,” Walker said. “And rather than being nine months, it’s 12 months, and it’s unlimited access to all your Times content online rather than just what’s in the paper that day.”

The switch not only allows for more students to access the news but is financially efficient, according to Walker. ASOC’s annual budget is funded by a student fee of $150 per student every year.

“I actually worked with the New York Times to get a quote, and it turned out to be cheaper,” Walker said.

According to Walker, a 9-month Monday through Friday paper subscription to the NYT cost the school $3,745 per year, whereas the new year-long digital subscription will cost $3,229 per year. The cost of the subscription was previously shared by ASOC, the Office of the President and the Dean of Students. Now, the Academic Commons/CDLA has joined the financial partnership for the digital subscription. ASOC requested $807 for the digital subscription.

Head librarian Kevin Mulroy said he was happy to participate in the joint effort to fund a digital subscription that will provide year-round, unlimited access because the library sees the importance of making Occidental students media literate.

“Given that students are by far the largest majority of the campus population — and serving their information needs is a vital part of what we do — this is a great outcome for the library,” Mulroy said. “It feels like a win-win.”

Sipchen is also a firm believer in the academic and global benefits that reading the news provides.

“I tell my students that if they read the NYT — digitally or in print — every day, it would be like cheating,” Sipchen said. “They would get more out [of] the paper in four years than any of their classes. They would be the most informed, smartest students on campus.”

Having digital access to the news may change the way students digest information, according to Mulroy.

Mulroy said the digital subscription will allow for more exploration and engagement with articles that students would not typically gravitate toward.

According to Sipchen, digital media comes with a confirmation bias issue, meaning people only engage with material that echoes their own views. He said, on the other hand, digital media allows for increased sharing of news and other important media.

“I think that our addiction to devices has distorted the news,” Sipchen said. “The clickbait headlines and shorter, more superficial, aggregated content is a problem, but I think you can sit on your iPhone and read complex 10,000 word stories if you have the inclination to.”

For Malter, reading the NYT and doing the crossword puzzle has been a meaningful part of her Occidental experience.

“I have a lot of positive memories, like, hanging on the quad, and it’s just been a really nice thing,” Malter said. “What a beautiful thing to do: to sit underneath a tree and read the newspaper.”