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It’s official. The New York Times plans to start charging nonsubscribers to read its stories on the web:

Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.

But executives of The New York Times Company said they could not yet answer fundamental questions about the plan, like how much it would cost or what the limit would be on free reading. They stressed that the amount of free access could change with time, in response to economic conditions and reader demand.

This is sort of odd. Why wait until 2011? The technology for tracking visits isn’t very hard to implement. And why announce this without answers to basic questions like “how many stories can I read for free?” Arthur Sulzberger says, “This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,” but this thought process got started a long time ago. Weird. But the good news, I guess, is that 2011 is far enough way that maybe this gives them time to think twice and decide not to do this at all.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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