I received the below e-mail today. I guess it was sent to some mass list of faculty members:
All faculty at [Name of university] are entitled to a complimentary subscription of the New York Times delivered to their home when the New York Times is listed in their syllabus as required reading. If 15 or more students subscribe, you will also receive a handsome portfolio as a free gift.
Help your students make discoveries every day in topics ranging from social trends and new technology to politics and the economy inside the nation’s most honored newspaper.
Students who would like a subscription to the New York Times are entitled to the following Educator Rate:
Monday-Friday: $2.50 per week
Friday through Sunday Only: $4.75 per week
Monday-Sunday: $6.75 per week
To begin, please email me with a copy of your syllabus listing the New York Times as required reading. Also, please provide the address where you would like your newspapers delivered and let me know how many students you expect in your class (es). I can then mail you the sign up forms for your students along with a postage paid FedEx envelope in which to return the sign up cards.
Please contact me if you have any questions regarding integrating the New York Times into your curriculum, and securing your complimentary subscription.
Thank you for your support of the New York Times.
The New York Times
I don’t include the New York Times on my syllabus and would not do so in order to get free stuff. I assume, and hope I am right, that my colleagues wouldn’t be swayed by an offer of free stuff, either. The e-mail does raise some questions:
- How desperate is the New York Times for readers? I have been teaching for 9 years and don’t recall getting this e-mail before.
- Does anyone think marketing stunts are going to save newspapers? That forcing students to purchase them will create loyal long-term readers? That they won’t go back to reading the news on their phones or laptops (or go back to ignoring the news entirely) the moment they are no longer required to buy the paper for class? Or is this just about the short-term customer – not creating loyal readers, but a self-sustaining supply of new short-term customers, who are forced to buy the paper for classes, because professors get a free subscription for life as long as they require their students to buy the New York Times? Could be a business model.
- The nation’s most honored newspaper? I guess it’s won a lot of awards. Congratulations, New York Times, on having so much honor.
- Is there any legitimate reason to require students to subscribe to a newspaper? I can imagine some contexts that would make integrating the New York Times into a course syllabus appropriate. A course on writing reviews, or journalism, for example, might regularly use examples from a major newspaper. Why would an instructor require the purchase of the physical paper in these instances, since so much of the exact content, and very similar content, is free online?
- If a physical paper is preferred for some reason, why a subscription to just one paper? Why not have the students read a different paper or magazine each week, with different editorial slants? The New York Times, then the Wall Street Journal, then the Village Voice, then National Review, then the Washington Post, then Reason, and so on. Using one paper — particularly if politics or economics or some other controversial subject is being covered — is an invitation to accusations of bias and indoctrination. Professors should not be trying to get their students to think like the Times. Even if that’s not what they are intentionally doing, even if they have no conscious political agenda, if they limit their newspaper to the Times in class, they are limiting the viewpoints their students will be exposed to. Since it is not realistic to expect students to pay for subscriptions to more than one newspaper, unless the professor is also providing many viewpoints through online readings and other sources, requiring students to subscribe to the New York Times is generally a bad idea.
The letter ends with a thank you for “your support of the New York Times.” It isn’t a professor’s job to support any newspaper. Not in his or her capacity as instructor of a course. The power we have to require students to purchase books or newspapers as part of a course should not be abused to support publications or causes we want to see supported.
*People wanting to defend the letter might note that it doesn’t explicitly say that the syllabus must require the students to subscribe in order for the instructor to get the free subscription. The paper just has to be required reading. Students could choose to read the content online. Instructors could easily do this, of course — get their free subscription and then have the students read a few pieces online and not in the physical paper. And maybe some will. Will others want the free portfolio gift? If so, they could require students to have the physical paper in class. Either way, one might hope that most professors wouldn’t let desire for a free newspaper dictate their syllabus.