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P.S. Remember, the same people at NYT HQ who signed off on the paywall plan probably think Sarah Palin is stupid.
If the Times’s new paywall is too easily breached, perhaps that is because the paper’s executives overlearned the lesson of their last attempt at charging for online access. TimesSelect, which began September 19, 2005, charged $49.95 a year for access to the Times’s opinion columnists, while leaving news stories, editorials, and outside op-ed pieces free.
The TimesSelect barrier was as impenetrable as the Berlin Wall. There was no monthly ration of free columns, no exemption for search-engine or Twitter links (did Twitter even exist then?), no Lincolnesque amnesty program. The Times even forbade other newspapers from posting columns online unless they also required payment to read them.
Like the Berlin Wall, this had the effect of keeping the Times’s columnists inside. The result was a Golden Age of online journalism, as bloggers and others ignored Paul Krugman’s vicious rants, Maureen Dowd’s bitter fluff, Thomas Friedman’s maladroit metaphors, and so forth.
I would gladly have shelled out $49.95 per annum to maintain this state of affairs-but perversely, that would have exposed me to the material I’d be trying to avoid, and lots more people would have had to make the same sacrifice of money and reading pleasure to make TimesSelect a viable business proposition. Little wonder, then, that TimesSelect ended September 19, 2007, with a “letter to readers” from NYTimes.com’s senior vice president and general manager, Vivian Schiller.
Schiller began her career in the Soviet Union (as a Russian interpreter for Turner Broadcasting), making the Berlin Wall analogy all the more fitting. But she was destined for more spectacular failures. Three weeks before the new Times paywall went up, she was ousted as president of NPR after two of her fundraising executives were taped making invidious comments to a pair of conservative activists posing as Islamic extremists with millions to dole out. Earlier, she had presided over the firing of Juan Williams for confessing, on Fox News Channel, that Muslims on airplanes made him nervous (see Presswatch, TAS, December 2010/January 2011). She quipped that Williams ought to see a psychiatrist.
IT’S POSSIBLE the Times also learned a better lesson from the failure of TimesSelect. Perhaps not coincidentally, the paper cleared out its stable of op-ed columnists in advance of the new paywall’s erection. The prolix Frank Rich was the first to go, signing off in mid-March with this admission: “Believe it or not, an opinion writer can sometimes get sick of his own voice.” Not only do I believe it, I get chills just trying to imagine the depth of the torment.
The following week, Bob Herbert followed Rich out the door. He explained to a Times reporter that his column’s “rigid 800-word limit” no longer suited him, “so I am leaving the New York Times and the rewards and rigors of daily journalism with the intent of writing more expansively and more aggressively about the injustices visited on working people, the poor, and the many others in our society who find themselves on the wrong side of power.”
Mr. Herbert, with all due respect, writing “more expansively” is the wrong move. Brevity is the soul of wit. Try Twitter instead.
Still, this is a good start. If the Times can induce Krugman, Dowd, and Friedman to quit too, $195 a year for a subscription may start to sound like an attractive offer.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?