The Newspaper

I still get the paper. It comes to my doorstep every morning except for Sunday when I get two of them.

For this privilege I pay $388 a year, $20 a month to the Oregonian and another $12 a month to the New York Times. As much as I had no idea it was this much until I just added it up, I still think it’s worth every penny.

Every morning I wake up, get the paper, make a cup of coffee, and then enjoy them both lying in bed. It’s a wonderful way to start the day.

I could, in theory, do the same thing for substantially less money reading the paper on my phone, computer or iPad and spare a few trees in the process. But I won’t. Not yet.

As much as I love the ritual of the morning paper, my apprehension has more to do with my favorite section, the editorial page.

I like the editorials, but I like the letters to the editor even better. I like the idea that anyone with a well-worded point of view can have their opinion published side by side with paid columnists.

What’s makes these opinions so enjoyable to read is there are so few of them. The paper only selects the very best. Sure it’s a matter of saving on paper costs, but it’s also a matter of leaving repetition, misspellings, incorrect facts, and drunken ramblings out.

Yet when it comes to publishing the exact same newspaper online, anything goes. Anyone with an email can sign up for an account and write whatever they want as often as they want about whatever they want in the comment section of any article. All but the very worst hate speech is tolerated.

An article that might not garner a single letter to the editor that merits being published in the print edition might get dozens if not hundreds of comments online.

Sure I could skip the comments. But I can’t. When I read an interesting article and I see there are 157 comments I am compelled to start reading them.

The economics of this situation seem crazy to me. As a paying customer of the newspaper I get zero preferential treatment as far as getting my letter to the editor printed. And yet I can post just about anything I want to any online paper for free.

So here’s an idea. Why not treat the comment sections of online newspapers with the same scrutiny as their print counterparts? Only publish the best, most well written comments.

Sure there will be howls of protest. Any paper that dares take away people’s ability to rant and rave as often as they see fit will be subject to accusations of censorship if not worse.

And it’s going to cost a lot. Extra editorial staff will have to be hired to review the ten of thousands of comments even a regional online gets every day.

But you know what? I’m willing to pay for it. Don’t even charge for the online edition of the paper as the New York Times has started to do, just charge for access to the comments.

I’d be willing to pay $5 or $10 a month to be part of a community of online readers who are held to a higher quality standard of conversation.

It’s risky. Any paper that dares take away what we’ve come to think as our right to comment with restriction will suffer consequences. Subscribers will unsubscribe. Page views will diminish. It will feel like a bad decision, at least at first.

But my bet is readers like myself will slowly but surely pay our money and join the conversation. We’ll enjoy reading the similar if not the same articles published everyone else, but we’ll keep coming back for the mere handful of thoughtful, well argued comments on each piece.

My guess is that the first paper to adopt this model will eventually become a national player. Right up there with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and the other handful of newspapers that will still be around 50 years from now.

So how about it The Oregonian, Kansas City Star, Sacramento Bee?

Who wants my money?

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