New York Times (NYSE:NYT) has a survival plan. It's just not a very good one.

The newspaper giant is considering a $5 monthly fee for access to its flagship website, according to Bloomberg. Subscribers of the print version would be offered a discounted price of $2.50 a month to check out the site.

It may sound fair, on the surface. New York Times employs some of the finest journalists in the country. The iconic paper doesn't just hire any columnist. In a vacuum, who would dare deem it unfair to hand over a fiver for access to a month of columns from Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd and the economic dissections of Paul Krugman?

The problem, of course, is that we're not in a vacuum. That sucks for New York Times.

Executive Editor Bill Keller took a serious jab at Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) news aggregation site three months ago.

"If you're inclined to trust Google as your source for news, Google yourself," he said while speaking at Stanford.

Isn't that the print media's problem? It either doesn't understand -- or doesn't want to understand -- that the world has changed. Knocking Google instead of embracing it is as poor a strategy as erecting $5 tollbooths when freeways are multiplying.

Google and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) have reached out to the inksmiths, offering them ways to populate their online pages with targeted ads, fleshing out their classifieds, and directing news-hungry portal visitors their way. In a few cases, print media has chosen to bite the hand that news feeds it.

Newspapers just don't get it. In the real world, they may be the only game in town when it comes to daily print editions. In larger cities like New York and Chicago, they still have no more than a print competitor or two.

It's a whole new world in cyberspace. In many ways, online resources are even better than the best newspapers.

  • Why should I read one movie review, when News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Rotten Tomatoes can provide the pulse of all critics for free?
  • Why settle for a single tech news source when Techmeme uses editors to compile the best stories from the Web or Digg can direct me to the best content that's available for free with its user polls?
  • Is there any true sports fan who still needs to read the morning paper to learn about the prior day's scores? Disney's (NYSE:DIS) and CBS's (NYSE:CBS) Sportsline are there with the box scores, recaps, and team-specific discussion boards that make newspapers practically irrelevant. Now that most smart athletes have Twitter accounts, the chatter about rumors has also migrated online.

It's true that News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal has succeeded with an online subscription model, but that's with news that moves markets. Having an investing edge creates a financial windfall. You don't get that with a scalding expose on local politicians or an in-depth review of a new stage show.

Slapping a cover charge may seem fair on paper, but it will shrink New York Times' online audience at the worst possible time.

How would you save the newspaper industry? Submit your lifelines in the comment box below and I'll be back next week to discuss some of the suggestions.

Other signs of the Times:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't mind getting ink on his hands when he reads the morning paper, but he is starting to wonder why it's yesterday's news. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.