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Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Newspapers find a new way to monetize their journalists

School’s in session at The New York Times this fall, and the professors include some big bylines on campus: Nicholas Kristof, Gail Collins, and Eric Asimov. They’re offering weeklong, largely online courses for Times readers who pay between $125 and $185.

It’s the first time that Times columnists have participated in the newspaper’s three-year-old Knowledge Network, an adult-education program operated in partnership with local universities. Stacy Green, a spokeswoman for the Times, told me that 100 courses are being offered this year, up from 50 in 2008, though only a handful include Times writers.

The participation of Kristof, Collins, and Asimov could be a precursor to the membership model the Times is considering in its search for new revenue streams on the web. A reader survey last month floated the possibility that paid members of the Times could enjoy special access along those lines:

TimesInsider: Ever wanted to talk cooking with Mark Bittman or to discuss books with Janet Maslin? How about a tour of the Times headquarters, including the newsroom? NYT Gold gives you insider’s access to the people who bring you the Times everyday.

The courses taught by Kristof and Collins, both op-ed columnists, include a “live, interactive Webcast,” three written lessons, and a message board where students can interact with their big-name instructors. For that, the Times is asking $185. Kristof’s course is on the exploitation of women in developing nations; Collins’s deals with the history of American women’s rights since 1960. Wine columnist Eric Asimov’s course, for $125, is a single session that students can attend in person or online. (Booze not included.)

Meanwhile, The Guardian is moving ahead with its plans for a membership program that could include exclusive events and access to journalists. A job posting for general manager of the Guardian Club explains:

Increasingly we believe our future resides at the centre of a community of engaged readers and users, whose relationship with us will be much closer and more involved. The Guardian Club will be our transformational next step in bringing these customers to the centre of our business, rewarding loyalty while growing our reach and revenues. We want members of the Club to feel that they are genuinely part of our organisation, and as close as it is possible to get to the editorial heart of our company.

The membership model clearly has momentum, and we should be hearing more about what both newspapers are planning in the coming months.

                                   
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