North Texas Daily

Wordle acquisition could mar independent journalism

Wordle acquisition could mar independent journalism

Wordle acquisition could mar independent journalism
February 04
13:00 2022

We really can’t have nice things, can we? Earlier this week, The New York Times announced its acquisition of the wildly popular mobile game Wordle. Though it may appear harmless on the surface, this move highlights the concerning growth of the publication’s influence. As one of, if not the most eminent news companies in the country, the Times’ latest acquisition — and its recent history of other purchases — could be a worrisome one, especially in the field of journalism, where independence and transparency is a necessity.

The acquisition places Wordle among fellow Times games, like The Crossword and Spelling Bee. Keeping aware of the Times’ goal to reach 10 million digital subscriptions by 2025, acquiring Wordle admittedly makes sense. The game has enjoyed astronomic success over the last few months, acquiring about 300,000 players since launching in October.

Users’ main fear of the acquisition is that the Times would put the currently free-to-play game behind a paywall. Knowing about its digital subscriber endeavor, requiring a paid subscription would almost certainly help the publication inch closer to that goal. From a business perspective, this makes perfect sense: the game enjoys a wide variety of different demographics. It’s a much-played and much-beloved game, so the Times is essentially strong-arming its players to purchase a subscription if they still want to post their grids on Twitter. Fiscally speaking, it is a masterstroke, but it is yet another example that the field of journalism can sometimes be subservient to the almighty dollar.

The Times’ acquisition of Wordle also comes on the heels of the publication’s purchasing of The Athletic, a sports news website providing local coverage in 47 North American cities, as well as the United Kingdom. Having a hefty price tag of $550 million, The Athletic’s purchase by the Times comes with similar trepidation found with it acquiring Wordle. The sports news outlet has garnered a substantial subscriber base since its inception in 2016, having 1.2 million subscribers as of December 2021.

Before the merger was announced, founder Alex Mather told the Times about his intent for The Athletic to do away with local newspaper sports sections. His affirmation to “wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until [The Athletic] is the one left standing” is a cutthroat one, but also forward-thinking. The need for objective sports reporting has never been more apparent, especially since ESPN too often favors its larger-than-life personalities over journalistic ethics. Look no further than the outlet’s top National Football League insider, Adam Schefter, who confirmed he had shared a full story with a past Washington Commanders president to review and correct before publishing.

For the Times, the most well-known print publication in the country, to then purchase The Athletic inevitably makes the sports news outlet that which they seek to destroy. This acquisition showcases the cruel reality of the current state of journalism: profit matters and the bills have to be paid somehow. When you then learn about The Athletic’s struggle to keep afloat financially (operating losses of around $55 million in 2021), then you see what the Times’ acquisition meant: it was a life raft.

Just as that acquisition could deter the ambition of a rising publication, the purchase of Wordle likewise comes off as a cynical, dread-filled move that was seemingly made solely with the intent to add another source of profit.

Though game creator Josh Wardle went on Twitter to try to calm the public’s worries of the acquisition, one can’t help but be concerned that Wordle will be yet another game that is squeezed out of its creativity for the sake of profit.

On the topic of Wardle, admitting that the sudden success of his game has been extremely overwhelming is a perfectly reasonable justification. It’s entirely possible that the Times’ acquisition of Wordle is simply a natural progression whenever an indie game enjoys mainstream success. We would love to give the publication the benefit of the doubt and assume the game would remain free to play, and not be plagued by the website badgering the player to buy a subscription.

We appreciate the article the Times published when announcing the purchase. However, it is cruelly ironic that the article itself is kept behind a paywall — an unfortunate but understandable reality of journalism.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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