In an early episode of Game of Thrones, Margery Tyrell is asked, “Wouldn’t you like to be a queen?”
“No,” she replies. “I want to be the Queen.”
The ruthless, scheming, bloody, dynastic struggle behind Margery’s reply is taking place within the newspaper industry right before our eyes. With almost every newspaper in the country suffering from severe declines in print subscriptions and readers turning instead to online editions replete with vapid slideshows and daily clickbait articles on “the NFL’s 25 hottest wives (you won’t believe # 6),” The New York Times has set out to attract the last great untapped subscriber base: college students. The Times is now offering college students a subscription to the online edition of the paper for $1 a week.
It’s a fantastic deal on one of the few papers left that tries to produce full, literate news stories and articles every day for both print and online editions, but if the $1 a week deal becomes popular, it will mean more than just the Times’s survival in New York. It will mean the paper is one step closer to being what it has always wanted to be, what it has always implicitly claimed to be in television ads across the country: not just a great newspaper, but the newspaper for every person in the United States. Given the horrifying decline in the quality of the reporting, the writing, and the editing I’ve seen in the online editions of the Houston Chronicle (the newspaper for the nation’s fourth-largest city) and the Times-Picayune of New Orleans over the last decade, I’m convinced that The New York Times can win journalism’s Game of Thrones. It can be, within a few years, not just “the greatest newspaper in the country,” but the only newspaper in the country that matters.