How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Loving’s Free News

I tried paying for online access to the Inquirer and Daily News. That just made me a chump.

A funny thing happened on the way to the digital paywalls for the Inquirer and Daily News: I started reading a lot more.

A lot more.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. When the city’s two major daily newspapers unveiled their new websites back in April, I was mostly enthusiastic. It was good for each paper to have its own online identity again. It was good — after years of drift and layoffs — for the papers to appear to have a plan. It was good that the websites were something (unlike their predecessor) the paper’s actual journalists could apparently embrace.

Plus, the $10-a-month subscription rate to access each paper online seemed like one of the best bargains in journalism. It still seems like a good price. I signed up for my subscriptions even before the websites had been official unveiled.

But you know what’s a better bargain than $10 a month? Free. Free is always better.

And what I couldn’t help but notice, not long after I started paying for my subscriptions—prompted mostly by a guilty conscience (and sense of personal self-preservation) suggesting that journalism ought to be paid for—was that lots of people were getting their online access to the Inky and Daily News for free. They still are.

Want to read the paper online? Just use a free promo code.

One way is through those infernal “promo codes.” Both papers were set up with hard paywalls—you have to pay to get in and read—but journalists at each paper understandably wanted to give readers a taste of the online experience before demanding payment. So most of the tweets and Facebook posts from the papers and their reporters ended up including promo codes. Three months later, that’s still the practice. Gradually, I started to feel like a sucker.

And I felt like even more of a sucker when it became apparent that—still a free site, after all—was still apparently publishing every single story from both papers. And everybody knows this.

Granted, it’s not always easy to find all of those stories—even though the site still has a healthy news section. But the trick to finding them is simple. Just take the headline from the or, put it in Google, and the version ends up first in the results. It’s the easiest system in the world to game.

Add to that the fact that just doesn’t suck as much as it used to—though there are still occasional high-profile problems—and, well: When I got a new bank card, I didn’t bother renewing my subscription information with the newspapers.

Here’s the problem. I actually would pay for good journalism about Philadelphia. As a journalist myself, I kind of want to pay for good journalism about Philadelphia. But I want to do so on terms that make me feel like I’m getting value for my money, instead of being a chump. Interstate General Media—the parent company of the two newspapers—isn’t operating as a non-profit charity; I still consider my subscriptions as money paid for a product, not a donation to keep a cause alive. Maybe that will change in the future.

So for now, is my, er, daily newspaper of choice. The iPad app is actually nice and fun to use, a great way to get the headlines with your morning coffee. Best of all, it’s free.