‘Free’ New York Times Twitter feed appears to be shut down

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

When the New York Times first unveiled its much-anticipated online paywall in March, several enterprising hackers soon discovered ways to circumvent it.

One of them, @FreeNYTimes, a Twitter feed boasting "free" links to virtually all of the articles published on the paper's website using an algorithm, fielded threats from the Times legal department--though the paper of record's legal team seemed then to be mostly irked by the unauthorized use of the Times logo. "We have asked Twitter to disable this feed as it is in violation of our trademark," a spokeswoman for the paper said at the time.

After the feed's anonymous owner changed its name to "NOT New York Times" and dropped the iconic "T" from its logo, the Times relented and the account continued on. To date, more than 23,000 links to Times articles have been tweeted--all of them freely accessible to nonsubscribers, since the paper's paywall rules allow inbound links from Twitter.

"Read more than your 20 articles/month allotment," the account's description reads, "because you came from Twitter! Data provided by The New York Times."

Now it appears that @FreeNYTimes--which had just 2,200 followers--has shut down. The last tweet from the feed is dated May 19.

The feed's shuttering, however, is not a result of additional legal threats from the Times. Its operator did not respond to a message seeking comment; a spokeswoman for the Times said she was not aware of any further requests made by the paper beyond the initial one.

There are, of course, other paywall-dodging resources out there. The @FreeNYT feed aggregates tools and tips for beating the paywall, such as "NYClean," a bookmark that works with your browser to scale the Times' wall.

"Can people go around the system?" Times Co. publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asked at a media breakfast before the paywall launched. "The answer is yes, just as if you run down Sixth Avenue right now and you pass a newsstand and you grab a newspaper and keep running, you can read the Times for free." (Sulzberger predicted paywall jumpers would "be mostly high-school kids and people who are out of work.")

It's no secret that the paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, views Twitter with hostility. Keller penned a 1,200-word column in last weekend's New York Times magazine ("The Twitter Trap") about the dangers of Twitter addiction.

But the New York Times' own Twitter feed has the most followers--3,249,139--of any newspaper in America. And just this week, the paper began experimenting with human operation of its main feed, instead of algorithmic "cyborgs."

(Photo illustration by Yahoo/The Cutline)