How I discovered The New York Times

Anton Kovalyov
5 min readJul 17, 2013


I came from a family of journalists. I love investigative journalism. If you look at my Kickstarter history, my biggest donations went to publishing-related projects like Matter. If you look at my library most of the books I read are non-fiction. And yet, last Sunday I had only just read a newspaper for the first time in my life.

Last Thursday, at around 9AM, I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to start my morning by reading an article or two from my ever-growing reading wishlist. On the top of the queue there was an article from The New York Times website. As I opened the page, however, I realized that the article was behind the paywall and I wasn’t a paying subscriber. Usually, I would simply delete cookies to get past the paywall but this time, maybe because I really didn’t want to write code early in the morning, I decided to take a look into different subscription options. I decided to try the Sunday delivery option which includes the actual newspaper, Sunday Review, Book Review, The Magazine and other publications.

If you’re anything like my girlfriend, you probably think I’m a crazy person for being excited about getting a newspaper subscription. After all, in the age of the web, tweets, Reddit, and automatic personalized recommendations, why would anyone be excited about getting a stack of papers on their front door?

Oh, you think tech news bubble is your ally, but you merely adopted the bubble. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t read a newspaper until I was already a man. By then, it was nothing to me but blinding. (Image: acruzarte)

When I was a kid, I thought of newspapers as something boring that old people read. I much preferred books. I would read anything: from the adventures of Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw to the mind-numbingly boring Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow to Isaac Asimov’s Atom to Avicenna’s The Canon of Medicine. In addition, after I got into computer programming, I quickly immersed myself into the technology news bubble. A nice, warm and comfortable bubble where friends and algorithms recommended articles about the topics only we cared about. A place where I could sleep well knowing I wouldn’t miss the next big Gnome vs. KDE flame-war. (For the reference they were as unproductive as Backbone vs. Ember debates but for users of UNIX desktop environments)

Of course, not everything was about technology. Every once in a while some real world news would trickle down. But more often than not they were either highly publicized sensational stories or somebody’s strong opinions on a topic my friends deeply care about. (For example, I know more than I want to about Krugman’s opinion on everything)

Then Matter happened. I loved every article they published so far because all of them were well researched, well presented and outside of my comfort zone. Matter couldn’t publish their stories fast enough to satisfy my growing appetite. So, last Thursday I decided to peek outside the bubble, and on Sunday I did. Calling my experience eye opening would be an understatement. I was amazed by how little I knew about the world, and how much I learned from reading one edition of a single newspaper. [1]

I learned, for example, that some regions in India are suffering from a mysterious illness that sends seemingly healthy children into coma before killing almost half of them.

I also learned that, in Africa, many women are suffering from obsteric fistula—a heart-wrenching injury that happens when 12 year old girls give birth before their bodies are ready. My faith in humanity was restored a tiny bit after learning that Times donated to a cause that built a hospital for women suffering from that injury.

There was also a nice opinion piece in which author questioned the usefulness of clinical trials in their current state. I read an article from an economist who used Google search statistics to argue that child abuse not only didn’t drop during the recession, but surged quite a bit.

Then there was an article about 1863 New York City riots. I knew absolutely nothing about it! I’ve been in New York at least ten times and I don’t remember any single mention of riots that killed twice as many people as the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in a city less than a quarter the size.

Or, consider Nothing to Do but Embrace the Dread. No way in hell any automatic recommendation engine would ever recommend me an opinion article about anxiety written by a person who suffers from an anxiety disorder. But, for many reasons, some of which are personal, I’m really glad I spent time reading it.

Of course, the Sunday edition of NYTimes also has more casual sections with book reviews and whatnot. In fact, it was very refreshing to read reviews for books that weren’t about computer programming, startups or philosophy on how to live your life. On the other hand, Amazon ( I just checked) still recommends Single Page Web Applications, NodeJS in Action and a guide to CrossFit Gymnastics.

Would I recommend my friends to do the same? To stop reading Hacker News and Reddit [2], to stop looking at Amazon recommendations and following only stories that appeared on their Twitter streams? Absolutely. I sincerely hope that this kind of high-quality professional journalism will never die.Because, as far as I can tell, nobody from my Twitter stream is ready to fly to West Africa to cover the struggles of 12 years old girls with serious medical problems.


[1] — I picked one of the best newspapers in the United States. I’m sure there are many publications that cover all the exciting stories about Justin Bieber’s new tattoo (don’t ask how I know about it) but I don’t take them in the account.

[2] — I still read Reddit, though limited by subscriptions to a very small number of niche sub-reddits that aren’t about news.

Thanks to Corinne for editing drafts of this.



Anton Kovalyov