September 22, 2005
Charging for Columnists: Notes and Comment on the Launch of TimesSelect
"If one faction wanted to go the Wall Street Journal's pay wall route, and another wanted to remain free like the Post, then TimesSelect is not a hypothesis for how to succeed on the Web, but just a mid-point between competing theories. That alone is reason to worry."
“Despite all that has happened, I still think that The New York Times has a stature and a position of journalistic authority that is greater than any news organization in the world. Could that be destroyed? I believe that it could be.”— Alex S. Jones, former reporter, New York Times, co-author of The Trust, a history of the Sulzberger family, in Business Week, January 17, 2005.
I agree with Jones: it could be. And I have some thoughts on the launch of TimesSelect, the new premium content package from the New York Times, which throws the columnists behind a pay wall, and opens the archives to Select subscribers. (For the basics, see the Washington Post’s story; Len Apcar’s note to users.)
“We have been tested many times in our 154-year history as we are being tested now.” That’s Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and CEO Janet Robinson in Tuesday’s note to staff about a new round of layoffs at New York Times Company (500 jobs company-wide.) The launch of TimesSelect is a big part of “being tested.” On the line is the company’s wisdom about itself, the Web and the place of its flagship newspaper in the new information order.
It will be easy enough to know whether it’s working. How many people sign up and pay the $49.95? It will be harder to know if there’s damage to the Times brand caused by the new pay walls. “He’s looking for significant numbers,” writes Editor & Publisher’s Steve Outing about Martin Nisenholtz, president of New York Times Digital. “The goal won’t be met with TimesSelect subscription numbers in the tens of thousands, Nisenholtz says; it needs to be in the hundreds of thousands in the early years, and even more over the long term.” There’s your scorecard.
I think they might reach their goals, at least at first. (For some users the archive alone will be worth the price.) Outing explains the bet:
One factor that Nisenholtz thinks will encourage people to pay to keep reading the Op-Ed crew is the notion of the “Times loyalist” — perhaps 1.5 million to 2 million readers who are devoted to the New York Times brand, and spend significantly more time reading NYTimes.com than they do other news sites. With them, he claims, their willingness to fork over “the equivalent to buying a few martinis” for an annual subscription could be expected.
As I said, they’re being tested on this logic, and what it might overlook even where it makes sense. The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg thinks it plays narrowly to the (liberal) Times base. If liberals are more willing to buy premium access, and conservatives less, doesn’t that make TimesSelect an ideological purifier?
Outing: “Steve Klein, an online journalism professor at George Mason University, says one of his students raised an excellent point during a class discussion this week about TimesSelect: ‘Even if the Times picked up most of its existing online readers, how are they going to grow a new generation of online Op-Ed readers if they keep the columnists behind a pay firewall?’ Good question.”
Yes, it is. My own questions start with this sentence in the corporate side’s press release, describing TimesSelect as “a new product offering subscribers exclusive online access to the distinctive voices of the Op-Ed, Business, Metro and Sports columnists of The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune (IHT).”
The phrase “exclusive online accesss” advertises two different goods. The first good is the work of the Times columnists themselves. The proposition that some will pay for that is hard to prove until you try, but it’s simple to understand. The second good being advertised is exclusivity. You, the lucky TimesSelect subscriber, have access to these voices. Others do not. The value proposition there is muddled. If we prize up-to-date information about petroleum markets, we might value it more—and pay a premium—if the news is exclusively available to paying customers; but do we value Nicholas D. Kristof’s column more if he’s an “exclusive?”
We don’t. In fact, it’s probably the reverse. If everyone is reading a columnist, that makes the columnist more of a must have. If “everyone” isn’t, less of a must. “Exclusive online access” attacks the perception of ubiquity that is part and parcel of a great columnist’s power. In his prime Walter Lippmann was called “the name that opened every door.” Nick Kristof’s brand of human rights journalism, which depends on the mobilization of outrage, is simply less potent if it can’t reach widely around the world, and pass by every door.
Staci Karmer of PaidContent.org interviewed Nisenholtz just before the big launch:
Despite the darkest musings of the blogosphere about dissolving the Op-Ed columnists’ relevancy by removing them from the free market, Nisenholtz insists, “Tom Friedman’s ideas, Maureen Dowd’s ideas are going to be as vibrant in my view, as important the day after as the day before.” At another point, he says, “I hope there are enough people who matter in the world who are going to continue to read the (22) columnists.” [He knows] the site is going to take an immediate traffic hit. “We think that within six months we’re going to be right back to where we were are now,” says Nisenholtz.
We’ll see. I’m not aware that Maureen Dowd has any ideas, beyond comparing politics to high school. She has a sensibility, and readers may go to her for that. If you want me to pay for your author’s sensibility, I might, if you’ve signed up Isaiah Berlin.
It’s not often discussed, but the free Web edition has transformed the work of foreign correspondents, and of columnists like Kristof and Thomas L. Friedman who write from abroad. Say you’re reporting from Cairo and based there. Pre-Web, only a handful of people in Egypt would ever read your story; they would get it three weeks later in an envelope mailed from the U.S. Most of those you interviewed—your sources—would never see the results of your reporting. Although they might be keen to know what the American press said about them, the material was out of reach.
Now, because of the Web edition, everyone in government, business and academic life has read your stories— and plenty of taxis drivers and schoolteachers, too. From Cairo to Ohio, readers bring to the transaction an awareness of all the other readers doing the same thing. The Times Company’s press release does not seem to realize that “exclusive” opinions are not more valuable than “widely-circulated” ones— and it’s possible they will count for less.
The other phrase that spoke to me from the official-ese was “distinctive voices.” As in “the distinctive voices of the Op-Ed, Business, Metro and Sports columnists.” But how distinct are these voices? Does Bob Herbert write about forgotten Americans in a distinctly different voice, or in a NAACP-big-city-outraged-liberal-Democrat one? If I were Martin Nisenholtz, one of my worries would be over-estimating the marketplace value, and misstating the unique selling proposition of a Herbert, a Maureen Dowd, a David Brooks. When I read Dave Anderson in sports he sounds like every other sports columnist, even when he’s on target.
Big-traffic bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Hugh Hewitt were discussing this on Hewett’s radio show this week. The question was whether flood-the-zone, real time reportage by weblog was the way to go for newspapers faced with a big news event like an approaching storm.
Reynolds: The New York Times thinks it’s going to make money selling op-eds, but hard news reporting is the killer ap for news media organizations. If they want to come up with opinion, they’re competing with guys like me, and we can kick Paul Krugman’s butt any day. If they do hard news gathering, and they actually report what’s happening, and they report it straight and fast, they can go toe to toe with blogs pretty darn well.
I assure you, they are chuckling in newsrooms about just possibly being able to compete “toe to toe” with bloggers in reporting a big moving story. Maybe they shouldn’t be chuckling, but they are. I think Reynolds was basically right about the columnists and kicking Krugman’s butt. (See Business Week Online: “Is Paul Krugman Worth $49.95?”) If I draft a PressThink post on a topic in the news, and it doesn’t offer a lot more than a typical newspaper op-ed, I won’t click “publish.” (Example: compare this column on Katrina and the press to this post.)
That’s part of my unique selling proposition: if you’re in the market, you get more if you stop by PressThink. Similarly, Josh Marshall is far more valuable to me than Krugman and Herbert combined. They have been slow to make best use of the Web. He’s been Web-savvy and smart. Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles: “like reading a lefty-liberal-economist? Can’t pay for Krugman? Try … Brad De Long!” Kaus has an amusing riff on an alternative “monetizing” scheme, called TimesDelete:
…for $19.95 a month, say, TimesDelete’s premium subscribers could vote on one op-ed columnist to take an extended vacation. If more people picked Krugman rather than Brooks, Krugman would get his salary plus a bonus on the condition that he maintain a meaningful silence for several weeks. The race would be tight every month, I should imagine, with Republicans and Democrats trying to outvote each other. But you can’t play if you don’t pay!
Steve Lovelady of CJR Daily said he doesn’t get it, either. From a comment thread at PressThink:
Opinionated commentary is a dime a dozen. The blogosphere is crawling with it, of every stripe. As well as rants, screeds, and moonbat manifestos of all sorts. That’s not a USP (unique selling point) for the big news engines. Their USP is the depth and breadth of their reporting. So why give away your USP for FREE while you’re CHARGING for the stuff — opinions — that the world already has too much of?
The entire field of opinion writing has been transformed by the Web, and it’s not just the bloggers doing their thing. Take a look at this page, and imagine the Times columnists have gone missing. Is that a problem for the page, or more of a problem for the Times? Then there’s the blogger override of the pay wall. No one knows how often this will happen. But check out this site, Never Pay Retail, which is nothing but links to where you can find the Times Columnists for free on the Web.
The Times realized that the value of the columnists had to be enhanced. So they pressed them to do more for subscribers. Business Week called it “the big draw” in the $49.95 package. (I disagree: the archive dating back to 1981—soon back to 1851—is the big draw.) Here’s the added value they forsee: more interaction and multi-media features involving the columnists. BW says:
… columnists will engage in extracurricular activities with subscribers. John Tierney will oversee a book club and related discussions. Paul Krugman will host online classes pertaining to international finance, under the rubric “Money Talks.” The sports columnists will gather for a twice-monthly chat. In “Everyone’s a Critic,” Frank Rich will post online observations and invite readers to debate sundry cultural topics, and Thomas L. Friedman will respond to reader mail.
Does it seem to you they’re having trouble with the value proposition? It seems so to me. The Times columnists aren’t experts or oracles. Thomas Friedman isn’t an authority on globalization; he’s a artful rhetorician, building stories around facts. Much of his value derives from the perception that “everyone” is reading him. Eliot Pierce, the product manager for TimesSelect, made note of certain advantages in fewer, better readers. (Via E & P.)
Pierce says the TimesSelect model gives him hope that the interaction that columnists will promote through these initiatives will be of a high quality. High-level conversation isn’t impossible with a mass free audience, he says, but the smaller pool of people paying for this likely will be more engaged; there likely will be less potential for flames and nastiness.
There’s some truth in that. Still, none of the columnists seem inclined to the “readers know more than I do” perspective that ex-columnist Dan Gillmor developed by blogging. That would be an exciting departure. At Media Bistro, David Hirschman interviewed Diane McNulty, Group Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations, who made this statement:
TimesSelect subscribers can create or view hyperlinks to the full text of the columns. Non-subscribers will see a brief summary of the column. We expect to have an affiliate program for bloggers in place by the end of the year that will offer bloggers financial incentives to link to TimesSelect content.
Hmmm. Financial incentives to link to the Times… Say, if I link to David Brooks today because the Times offers me money to do so, isn’t that like payola? I e-mailed McNulty for an explanation, and what I got was a reversal. Apparently she misspoke in the interview. There are no incentives to link to Times content:
Jay, Thanks for asking about that.
There has been some confusion over how the affiliate program we are developing for TimesSelect will work. To clarify, we expect to have such an affiliate program in place by the end of the year. It will provide incentives for bloggers and others who generate, through advertising links on their sites, new subscriptions to TimesSelect. These links will be clearly marked as advertisements and appear as either text links or banner ads. It is not The Times’s intention to have bloggers use RSS feeds of editorial content as a way to promote TimesSelect.
Group Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Okay, thanks: so no payola. (Staci Kramer has more.) Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan wrote this on Tuesday of debut week: “Memo to Arthur Sulzberger: I would have linked to John Tierney’s excellent NYT op-ed today on how Wal-Mart is better able to deal with natural disasters than FEMA. But only Times Select readers can read the link. So I won’t. Nyah nyah.” (See also JD Lasica.) But the more telling comment was his announcement of a deal he struck with the Washington Post:
Here’s an interesting contrast: next Tuesday, this blog is going to be streamed to the Washington Post’s online opinion section. WaPo, unlike the NYT, is trying to reach out to bloggers and increase the interaction between old and new media. They approached me; and I’m always up for an experiment. WaPo will carry my lede item at any given time, and a couple of teaser headlines for the rest. I have no idea what to expect; and neither do they. But it’s one of the first real cooperative ventures between an independent blog and the MSM.
Sullivan adds: “Ironic, isn’t it, that the day the NYT shuts its opinion pages off from free access, the WP actually opens its doors to independent bloggers?”
Doc Searls: “This whole thing looks like an ugly political compromise between warring factions inside the paper.” That’s my sense too, based on what I have heard. If one faction wanted to go the Wall Street Journal’s pay route, and another wanted to remain free like the Post, then TimesSelect is not a hypothesis for how to succeed on the Web, but a mid-point between competing strategies. That alone is reason to worry.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
I was a guest on Christopher Lydon’s radio show, Open Source, where the topic for the hour was TimesSelect (Oct. 5). With Rich Meislen, associate managing editor for Internet Publishing at the Times, Staci Kramer of PaidContent.org, and Ben Hammersley of the Guardian blog section. Summary and audio.
Micah Sifry: “The TimesSelect experiment, which I think will fail, is a great example of how the business side is dominating the editorial side of that institution online.”
Craig Newmark of craigslist.org at his craigblog:
This applies, or maybe contrasts, to how at craigslist we figure out what to charge for. In our case, we ask people. We’re doing that right now regarding charging apartment brokers in NY.
Users, what should we charge for? I wonder what would have happened if the Times popped the question at the site. (Here, for example.) Newmark also says that estimating the value of a columnist “reminds me of the tipping point in the value of fax machines… they became much more valuable when a lot of people had ‘em.”
Why trackback is dead. It’s not just the spam. Scroll down and you’ll see this post has three official trackbacks, according to Movable Type software I’m using. But a BlogPulse tracking search shows 29 blogs that linked to it. (Google blog search shows 27, but many duplicates in there.) A mechanism that records ten percent of what it’s tracking is dead. Is there something I’m missing?
Dan Gillmor of Bayosphere: “Count me among the naysayers.” He calls it the “anti-Web pay-wall.”
Ben Vershbow replies at if:book. (Institute for the Future of the Book)
… the Times is seriously overvaluing its columnists, or worse, de-valuing them by placing them behind a pay wall. If I were Tierney, or Kristof or Dowd, I would be furious. It makes them look like preened show dogs when everyone else is duking it out in the commons for all to read. Seems like a one-way ticket to irrelevance. Plus, soon they’re going to have to take part in all sorts of online chats and seminars with Select subscribers - I bet they’ll really start to chafe then.
Doc Searls replies at his weblog. His position is: needs more tinkering. “There’s a market model that will work someday. The Times is right to try figuring one out.”
Charge for the news, recycle the olds. That’s the same business we’ve always had in the daily print news business, and I think it will leverage just fine on the Web.
The only problem with that is having no live Web presence, right? So, a suggestion: take everything but breaking news off the home page (which is way too crapped up with clutter anyway). Make it clear that subscribers get to see the rest of today’s news today. Make links to today’s news work tomorrow, even if only subscribers see those links today.
That way the paywall for each story or column is up only for 24 hours, and down for the rest of time. That way the paper gets plenty of authority and influence from having its full archives on the Web in searchable and linkable form. News customers get to pay for what they’ve always paid for. And hey, maybe once the high value of fresh news gets full respect from its producers, the papers will start making customers out of its consumers.
Makes a lot of sense. Italics are mine. Doc e-mails, Sep. 25: “The real challenge will come when the car companies, financial houses and big retail houses stop spending money on newspapers. Won’t happen instantly, but it will happen. In fact, it’s happening already with retail, I believe.”
Mickey Kaus says: “We Want the Overnights!”
Q.: Does the NYT have the subscriber totals for the triumphant first days of TimesSelect, its new pay-for-columnists feature?
A: Of course it does.
Q.: If those numbers were any good, wouldn’t the NYT be telling us about them?
A: Of course it would!
More (Sep. 25): Kaus keeps the pressure on. “TimesSelect has apparently shut down maintenance of the highly useful library of Paul Krugman columns at the UnOfficial Paul Krugman Archive…” Plus (Sep. 26) Kaus on what Chinese authorities could learn from TimesSelect.
Kos weighs in, calling the Times the “textbook definition of stupid.”
They take the one part of the paper that is a commodity — the opinion — and try to charge for that. No Krugman? Who cares. Give me Brad DeLong. No Bob Herbert? Whatever. Give me James Wolcott or anyone at the American Prospect or Washington Monthly. Or any of the thousands of columnists at other newspapers, and the tens of thousands of political bloggers.
“In this world, no one is special, no one is irreplaceable,” says Markos. “In the old world of syndicated columnists, that might bruise some egos.”
Steve Outing at the Poynter site:
I must say, it’s disturbing to see some of my favorite columnists vanish except for a single website. (I did purchase a TimesSelect subscription.) While I think that enough people will sign up for TimesSelect for the Times to make some decent money, I fear that the paper’s influence — led by its most known writers who have had worldwide reach — will wane.
And that certainly is the consensus of people who’ve written to me in reaction to my E&P column.
PressThink, A Little Detail in the Sale of About.com to the New York Times. (Feb. 20, 2005)
More and more, we hear about a big battle that is either here or coming inside the Times over whether to charge users for online access, as the Wall Street Journal currently does. If that happens and the Washington Post remains free, the paths of those two great news organizations will, I believe, diverge.
I think they are diverging. Best blog post I have seen on this is the subtle analysis from chez Nadezhda:
I expect the difference in the two approaches will in the long run have an impact on the content of the two newspapers and ultimately their philosophy of what it means to be a news organization. The NYT proposes to continue to “deliver” its “product.” The Post, by contrast, is becoming a portal to a dynamic network of content, only a portion of which is home-grown…
Well worth it if you’re interested in the two paths.
Go read Karl Martino: Newspaper’s “Black Tuesday.” You will be smarter and maybe even inspired. Also see on the newsroom cutbacks in Philadelphia Dan Rubin in Blinq: Newspaper Days, a smart survery of reactions to the bleak economic news.
Bill Quick at Daily Pundit is skeptical: “I give it six months.”
Hmmm. Soccer Dad on getting around Times select.
Bob Cauthorn at Corante, Newspapers, meet precipice. It’s not about “brand,” he says. That’s what they say when they don’t want to fix the product.
If newspapers fix their print products circulation will grow — change format, revive local coverage, alter the hierarchical approach to the news, open the ears of the newsrooms and get reporters back on the street where they belong. If you want to get really daring, re-imagine print newspapers as a three-day a week product rather than as a seven-day a week product.
As a practical matter, print newspapers only make money three days a week anyway. Imagine the interplay between a seven day a week digital product and a densely focused (and wildly profitable) three-day a week print product . Each doing different things. Each serving readers and advertisers in different ways.
Jon Friedman of Marketwatch on this week’s news about staff reductions:
It should be noted that the same New York Times news release ended like this:
“The company plans to manage the staff reductions in such a way that it continues to provide journalism of the highest quality, to function smoothly on a day-to-day basis and to achieve its long-term strategic goals.”
Whew. It’s a relief to see that the Times intends to put out just as great a newspaper as always with fewer resources than ever. Now, the Times senior management team can turn its attention to climbing Mt. Everest, stopping the violence in Iraq and parting the Red Sea.
Posted by Jay Rosen at September 22, 2005 11:08 AM
The wierd thing with the WSJ analogy is that the WSJ does exactly the opposite of the NYT approach: its free OpinionJournal site has its op-ed essays and editorials, while its reporting is behind the paywall.
What's valuable today? Information that comes with a high degree of confidence and carries predictive power.
What's parsley? Politicized opinion, infotainment, stenographic reporting and "analysis" of the obvious.
I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift that will divide information and commentary into two basic categories: 1. Basic, "unwarranteed" communication, which will continue to be too cheap to meter; 2. Value-added information, which will abandon our Old School value of "fairness" for a model based on the daily intelligence briefing.
When we talk about "objectivity," we tend to talk about its limits. We don't tend to talk about its value. When we talk about commentary, we talk about its slant. We don't tend to talk about its perceptiveness. Our current frame of reference is a newspaper/broadcast model that is based on certain assumptions about "gatekeeper functions," "credibility," "balance," and the mass audience.
When you adopt an intelligence agency perspective, the information gatherer and the information analyst are working for a specific end user, not a general, passive audience.
This is a radically different relationship. Your loyalty is to your subscriber, not to your sources, not to your political friends. Your value -- your continued employment, for that matter -- is attached to the quality and utility of your information and your insights.
People will pay for such content, and the networked media makes it possible for more people to access such services. These are, ultimately, the "editors" described in the EPIC 2014 animation.
Will people pay for Times Select? Not unless it has this function.
In fact, I don't understand Times Select at all, unless you connect it to your circulation department. If I subscribe to the NYT print edition and I'm on the road in Portland, do I have to pay for Times Select to read Dowd? If so, how stupid is that?
I used to love the New York Times, maybe not like a man loves a woman. But this decision to charge for columnists is one of the worst in a long-line of bad business decisions that proves the management there has no idea about the concept ot good will in business.
From the way they handled the National Writer's Guild lawsuit over electronic rights to the way they screwed free-lance photographers on filing fees to the way they dumped some great reporters as stringers in the wake of Jayson Blair, to this.
As I have already said on my own site, charging for the Times content ends the paper's century-long run as the national newspaper of record. It is over.
The Times links were already getting too long to link to on a news site or blog. The pop up ads and fat, odd-sized ads just get in the way of the online reading experience. There are way too many other ways to get information and commentary to endure that, plus the new charges.
The democracy argument is a good one too. What will students and grad students do? Turn to fast sites with AP and Reuters and the Washington Post.
It is a sad, sad day in American publishing history. I'm sure they will pocket some cash up front, but I predict it won't work in the long-term. They will give it up in less than a year. Their circulation will fall too far too fast and the online advertising revenue will also drop precipitously.
But quite frankly, that is not the worst of the problems for the Times. As I predicted in Editor & Publisher a couple of years ago, they just do not have the reporting power on the ground anymore.
Watch for the New Orleans bureau of AP to walk with some Pulitzers this year. I could have been there for the Times, but no, they like to erect bureaucratic walls as bad as any government or corporate money machine.
The Post is a better read now than the Bill Keller New York Times, except for the editorial page. If the post would find some decent columnists and started up a stringer network like the Times of old, they could own the title newpaper of record for the next few years in a way they never could in the days of print, since they never paid for regional printing and national distribution.
Goodbye NYTimes. Sorry to see you go...
At the appearance of TimesSelect, I wrote the Times in protest even though, as a home subscriber, I get the "goods" for free (for now). My position is that I would rather subsidize the freeloaders with my home subscription than to see Krugman's plug pulled.
I think Jay, and Kos, are missing something when they bray that they value Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" and/or Brad De Long's Blog more than a Krugman column. It undervalues the platform from which Krugman writes and his authority. Everyone in the Blog-sphere has an opinion, its just that Krugman's are more important because of who he is and where he is broadcasting from.
Krugman, more than most old-line print columnists, reads and cites to the Blogs. There is always a time-lag, but his point is never to get there first, it is rather to legitimize the blog-bluster into something more concrete, through its appearance in Krugman's column. Bloggers don't like to face the disposable quality of their stuff (although they probably are grateful enough for it when they get something wrong). TPM and Kos and TBOG are often moving "stories"; Krugman is working on a deeper level, working in closer to the spine of national debate. When Kos, or Bilmon or some other blogger "goes deep", even when I think they are hitting their stride, it is hard to shake the feeling that they are out of their element and in over their heads.
If TPM has more faster and more often than Krugman, well then any number of blogs beat PressThink to the punch with their rolling almost-daily critiques of print and television reporters, columnists, anchors and hosts. But these instantaneous snarks are qualitatively different than the deeper posts that appear here. It would be just as wrong to say, "Who needs PressThink when we have Atrios?" Frank Rich's columns do not suffer for being less immediate than others that work in his neighborhood. In fact, it is enhanced by Rich's ability to draw a breath, stew on things awhile, compose and then publish from that yet lofty platform. Of course, the Times isn't entirely senile and there is something to their view that the wide web is feeding off the Times credibility (even as they assault it). When the bloggers can meaningfully address and answer these types of mainstream columns, the whole endeavor is enhanced. Even though its only natural for the bloggers to say, "glad to see them gone -- means more for me" they'll miss them when they're gone. If the Times, WSJ and Salon can make good, more and more of the blogsphere will become pay-for-view, and some of the leading lights will cash out and go behind the wall, and the non-commercial blogsphere will drift and disapate. The Times wouldn't be broken up over it.
My fear is that this is part of a potentially larger trend to a class system on the Internet, where those who can't afford the $50 a year fees for news sources aren't able to see what a millionaire can. Increasingly we are seeing a digital divide between those who can afford high speed and the others being left behind with their dialup, limiting what they can access on the net. We do not need to exacerbate the situation.
There's an interesting relationship between information and users that may affect its value: Information is more valuable when you're in a position to do something with it.
So who, generally, are the people who pay premiums for information? Investors. Private detectives. Consultants. Spies. Political operatives. Serious gamblers. Fantasy football players.
For these classes, buying quality information is no different than buying advertising or raw materials. It's an investment on which they hope to generate a profitable return.
On the other hand, most of us take little action on information. The only time we "act" on geo-economic-political news (which is the bulk of it) is when we vote. For us, information and news is what makes you look smart at parties. It helps you "get" The Daily Show. It's a combination of cultural connection and entertainment, and it's valuable... but it isn't directly profitable.
The irony is, we already live in a world in which there are huge information gaps. The wealthy and powerful, who maintain their postitions via information, already have access to sources the rest of us lack. We don't see what they've got, so we don't generally miss it.
Networked media gives us choices. We can receive the free info and commentary that everyone else receives, but if we want something more, we can choose to buy it.
Who will buy premium information? People who see value in it. How much will that information cost? Whatever its market will bear. What is the effect of making premium information available via networked (multi-node) media? Generally, to increase access and decrease cost.
The NYT made a poor choice with Times Select, and they'll have to learn their mistake and recover from it. Here it is, in a nutshell: They're selling politainment and tripe (Friedman), not premium information (Krugman being a notable exception). People can get politainment for free everywhere, so why would they pay for it?
To me, the more interesting question becomes: In a fragmented, networked-media information economy, what will be the societal effects of having so many groups with so many disconnected frames of reference?
"Are Times Select subscribers guaranteed the ability to post feedback or commentary on a columnist's work?"
Subscribers can comment, at least on some of the columns, with restrictions (you have to sign your real name, and you have to be polite).
"There is other good stuff out there, mainly bloggers who know more about their subject (expertise) than any NYT editorialist."
Krugman helped win the ss debate, he's a Princeton economist and knows as much as anyone about his field. Brad DeLong is a liberal economist, but he doesn't have the platform that Krugman has. You can't best Dowd at what she does. Kristof was bureau chief all over the far east, he has so many contacts ... Anyway I don't see how you can compare a blog with a column, one is fast food, the other slow food, for the most part.
" would you trust the opinion of any of these people regarding anything you'd put your wallet up against?"
See Krugman above. Also, Kristof made a big difference for several Pakistani women of late. These writers aren't just opinion and anaylsis. They are also advocates.
"paper expects readers to pay for the privilege of viewing videos introducing the columnists"
The paper doesn't expect anything. You can view the videos or not, your choice. I have enjoyed them thus far.
"But only Times Select readers can read the link. So I won’t. Nyah nyah.”"
Andrew Sullivan provides a good example of why I would rather read the NYT columnists than most blogs: the columnists are adults who know how to engage in civil discourse.
"“In this world, no one is special, no one is irreplaceable,” says Markos. “In the old world of syndicated columnists, that might bruise some egos.”"
Kos's ego is big enough. He ends his post saying that the NYT acts as if it wants to become obsolete -- "Wish granted," as if he alone decides who is important these days.
My Times Select subscription came free with home delivery, so I was spared any shock the online readers have had. A month or two ago Bill Keller was on Charlie Rose saying that The Times was going to increase investigative reporting, which may improve their news pieces for those who are complaining.
Scott, I was the one who brought up business expense. I wouldn't call it an argument, though. I'm reasonably sure that research confirms it--or maybe I'm just having grad school flashbacks and it was never anything more than Vin Crosbie's reasonable and thus far entirely accurate criteria.
So since I'm too lazy to spend more time finding out which, consider the intuitively obvious (with cites!). 15% of the print WSJ customers pay the extra bucks to get online access. That 15%, or about 200,000, constitutes half of all WSJ.com subscribers.
So, are the other 200K who only subscribe to WSJ.com news junkies who pay for news online when they could get it from a thousand places free? Or are they previous print subscribers who decided the online version gave them everything they needed for less? If you're not sure, consider that their print subscriptions grew by 47. Not 47%. Just 47.
There's no reason to think that the online subscribers are anything other than print subscribers who don't like to recycle--in other words, the WSJ target market which, in WSJ's own words, is "the nation's top business and political leaders, as well as investors across the country.".
If the majority of WSJ subscriptions aren't written off as a business expense, the Journal itself would be flabbergasted--and worried.
Paid content is growing far more slowly than the optimists hoped. Jupiter Research came out with a report in early 2003 saying that paid content dollars spent had exploded to 1.6 billion, and that 2003 would see 2 billion, but in fact we didn't hit 2 billion until (2004), and much of that was generated by new users, not increased per capita spending.
As for what we spend on: the new entry is personals/dating. But the other top 2 of three have held constant for years: business/financial and entertainment/lifestyle (spelled PORN) (cite).
I don't know what delusion gripped the Times management. But the facts on paid content have been uncompromisingly consistent for years.
Jay, as for the ads: I don't know what the numbers are for the Times, but if they're like the rest of media, your subscription covers the cost of production and delivery--maybe. Most publishers I've read or spoken to say that they'd be happy to give their product away for free, but that advertisers pay more for eyeballs that paid for subscriptions.
One thing the Times bashers shouldn't forget is that the Times competed in the most competitive newspaper market in the country and not only prevailed but became one of the best newspapers in the world. That was a remarkable achievement. Maybe the Times has lost its touch, but I wouldn't count it out too fast.
Jenny D gets to the heart of the matter: Can a newspaper make it exclusively online? I think it's possible, at least at the national level, but I'm very skeptical about the local and regional level.
Look back 100 or 150 years ago, which wasn't so different from today. Every town had multiple papers selling for prices that were barely above free. Costs of production were, by historical standards, negligible. You could pick a paper that matched your ideological and reading preferences. Or you could read several, as many people did.
Over time, the market shook out so that all but a handful of cities had just one highly profitable daily. Why? Advertisers gravitated toward the largest paper, which could therefore increase revenues without substantially increasing costs and squeeze out competitors. As that happened, the dominant papers changed into the nonpartisan, fiscally conservative, professional, comprehensive and bland products we know so well.
The Internet has returned us to, approximately, 1830. I'm guessing that the same things that worked for the papers that survived then will work in news now:
1. Fast, comprehensive and intensely local coverage.
2. Overt political grandstanding (See Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst).
3. Predominance of fact over opinion.
And I'm guessing that the same shakeout will occur. We'll have a dominant national paper (or website) or two, a lot of fringe operations and not much in between.
The Times, with its sober, international focus, always has taken a different path. I don't know whether that will continue to work, but I would rate its chances better than those of at least 8 of the other top 10 papers in the country, plus all the TV networks and magazines.
In 20 years, I'm guessing, the Times will still be kicking Instapundit's butt.
Jay, I am sorry to do this here, but now I have to rant:
How on earth would having George Bush blather about his lack of pulling on bootstraps do any good for the nation? Dowd is such a dope, and caught up in her own story arc about herself as perceiving the story arcs of others...and then trashing them I guess. She's like a snake who's started to eat her own tail, her worldview is getting smaller, and tighter, and smaller.
As though a story arc is more important than the systemic problems of healthcare, or education, or terrorism, or the nation's perception of the power and responsibility of government versus the individual.
You mean that this woman doesn't have a single concrete idea about what the president could do to help the nation? And she is a national columnnist, at the big newspaper?
Oh, I have to stop before I say something not fit for primetime.
Except...what makes me laugh is that someone at the Times thinks I would pay to read her stuff online.
You know, to apply economics, there is an oversupply of opinion, and the price drops. So does demand. You can get opinion everywhere. And thus Dowd's looks even less valuable than it did.
There is also an oversupply of news, but since that differs so little regardless of the source it's a commodity.
I am glad I'm not in the news business at the moment. This looks difficult. What can news producers do to remain valuable? (I've already given up on opinion.)
The most frequent feeling I have for Dowd is contempt, but I feel compelled to defend her in this case. From the neo-liberal/neo-con perspective, Bush's fantasy that being born on third base means he hit a triple and is a self-made man DOES address class issues.
The neo-lib/con response to class division is to claim that character will out and success is proof of virtue. If Bush is rich then he's a good man. If other people are poor, it's their own damn fault. Dowd, in her incoherent stuttering way, is pointing to this right wing fantasy that virtue accounts for class. Dubya imagines his youthful failures in the oil business redeemed by Saudi investors buying influence with his father prove that he earned what he has and made good on his own! If these poor people in New Orleans didn't have the mettle to have THEIR bankrupted companies purchased by Saudi investors desirous of buying influence with THEIR fathers, than they just don't have the character and personal discipline that would make them worthy of personal wealth.
This speaks directly to the Republican party's position that the very mention of class is "class warfare", unless it is an excuse to let no-bid contracts to connected Republican firms. The erasure of class by fantasies of character and morality is the dominant way the point is avoided in American public discourse.
Dowd's mumbling dosn't rise to the level of policy advice, but it does address a rhetorical strategy that enables George W. Bush, head robber baron, to get away with "values talk" and protestations of "religious faith" and good intentionis as if that puts to rest issues of class. From this perspective, as long as he didn't have the intention to sin in his heart, than he can't be held responsible for actual policies that screw the poor, because redemption and character trump policy and real world consequences. To discuss real world consequences is a sign of unchristian derangement and refusal to live in the dominant fantasy world.
The MSM consensus that Robert's reactionary legal agenda can't be opposed "because he's a good man" more or less follows the same anti-political politics of personality. Roberts' personal amiability means his reactionary politics are somehow unopposable. Contemporary American politics have virtually been replaced by personal story arcs.
Dowd doesn't have much going for her in general, but in this case, to the degree that what she said is intelligible at all, I'm afraid she's on the right track. Bush's rhetoric of faith-based charity mumbles the same personalized language Dowd mumbles here.
For Bush, pretense to religious virtue and crony contracts are a plan to "help the poor in New Orleans." The only help the poor get in that transaction is the rhetoric of moral concern in Bush's personal story arc. Dowd is on the right tack here.
Mark: If our columnists have any duty at all, it's to know what they think. Still, I would respect an answer like, "I'd tell Karl I have no idea what the White House agenda should be, and it's not my job to know." Does Dowd say this? No. Instead she ventures a thought. But she is unable to form a thought-- and it wasn't exactly a curveball thrown at her.
Q: So what should the people in charge of the White House do in their second term?
A: Did you know George Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth?
This being inarticulate in the extreme about the very thing political columnists are supposed to be extremely articulate about... a little strange, no? How compatible is it with $49.95? What relevance does it have to your feeling "compelled to defend her in this case?"
Notice that, like Scott McClellan, going inarticulate allows her to avoid any real answer to the original Q: "Maureen, what do you think the Republicans should do?" Lay out your thinking for us. Show some judgment, some elegance of mind, some wit. You are an opinion columnist, venture an opinion! Earn your title!
But she couldn't (on television!) earn it because she doesn't have any clear and decent answers, which Russert had, I think, sensed. So she answered another, more pleasing question: Maureen, what's your favorite hypocrisy riff about Bush? Would you do it for us? To that one she had her smirking answer.
Mark: She's against hyprocrisy, Mo is. And earth tones in men's clothes. She's against those. Who cares if she's on the right side of Marcuse? She's a surface reader who got too close, and stuck herself to the surface.
"If you don't like it, why are you talking about it all the time?" ale
My apologies, this "you" was the general you, internet, liberal / centrist bloggers and news sites. It was a sloppy sentence.
As to not responding to your questions in my last comments, it was because I didn't see them.
I meant what I said about Ms. Dowd literally, no one is like her, for better or worse. I enjoy some of her pieces.
"First, you're not reading the right blogs." I thought blogs were by definition off the cuff. Obviously, your posts are not, and a few others I've found. Perhaps someone will differentiate "slow blogs" from the faster ones, and I can check out more of those, since I may prefer them.
Krugman's platform was just lowered, but DeLong's was not raised. So far the aggregate of lefty blogs doesn't seem to have the power of The Times or any of the big papers, though they may in the future. My worry is that the federal government is deteriorating quickly and I want replacements soon, and I want the Republican Party's agenda stopped now. The liberal bloggers help with the former issue, but not that much with the latter, am I right?
If we had to fight the social security battle again, without blogs, without the internet, everything else the same, couldn't we do it? I am missing something. Krugman is not going to be in the blogosphere much, but he will be in the news generally. He has been interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio several times recently, for example, as well as on Air America. He was in a recent issue of Harpers.
The Times columnists are still at Truthout, so they are available online easily, thus far.
All Times columnists are behind the wall, remember, even business, sports, etc. I don't know what kind of pull they create, but there must be some. Joseph Nocera got me (just a little) inside the Business pages -- anything is possible.
I cannot figure out why people like to get their news online. I still like a print paper, and there is so much the online edition doesn't have (and vice versa, of course). Then there's the glare, and the noise, and the immobility . . . .
Maybe this is relevant, maybe it isn't, but here it is: I don't read the NYT on a daily basis -- not in print, not online. It's available, but I don't read it as part of my daily routine.
What do I do instead? I have RSS bookmarks and aggregators, most of them pointing to blogs. I scan these and get the news, plus what people are saying about the news. A few times a day I'll check to see what's popping up on my RSS bookmarks for the BBC and CNN.
When do I read NYT columnists? When they say something that shows up in online conversation, or when one shows up in my local print newspaper.
Since I read blogs from both the left and the right, I get a pretty good cross-section of opinion. And if something really interests me, it's not hard to find the original material (and it still isn't difficult, even with Times Select) via links.
So there's an issue for the New Media marketing gurus: I read more than most people, and I don't go directly to the NYT (which I enjoy as a print newspaper) for news and opinion in my daily routine.
Why? Because my self-created, ever-changing media ecosystem has replaced it as an information editor. I enjoy the NYT, but these other sources are just somehow more... practical. Technorati, memeorandum, daypop, blogdex are part of my daily mediascape, because they tell me what's got a hold of people's attention.
You know when people read news and information sources online? Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- while they're sitting at their computers during the work day. We're getting our news on the job, in the background, throughout the day, without ever looking at a newspaper or a TV set. That's the new market: Office workers and professionals who obsessively check their RSS feeds while doing their boring jobs, Monday through Friday.
My guess as to why such people read such sources during the business day? Because company policy prohibits them looking at porn. They do THAT on their own time.
I am not a Journalist. My spelling is often mostly artistic rather than accurate. Yet, from my distant observation post, there seems to be a serious malaise in the professional news wordsmithing business.
That, obvious to me, illness is simply the inability of the Editor to properly identify the real story.
I suspect the editor sends the reporter out to cover a specific news story. Any fool can see that a national disaster that takes human lives and the love life of Michael Jackson are major stories.
What has happened to the brilliant Editors?
The informed Editor who sends his best investigative writer to get all the drama and stealth that is preventing Whistle-Blower Protection legislation from being enacted in Canada, in the United States and at the United Nations, all currently, all at this very time?
Why is it that you are not aware that whistle-Blower Protection will do more to save us from losses of billions of national revenue dollars, in Canada and the USA and would have stemmed huge misappropriations of funds in scandals like [?Able Danger?], Canada's Sponsoship or Adscam, [Billions], and the United Nations Oil For Food scandals.
There are honest people everywhere, but they can not act on our behalf because almost no one can afford to lose their job or be wrongly crushed in the courts when no WB Protection is in place.
This law works no matter what party happens to hold power and it reaches into every corner of the country.
There was a recent case in Nova Scotia where funds were diverted that would have paid the wages of 133 child protection workers. The same 133 child workers an investigation revealed that the children's ministry was short staffed by. What a tragic disgrace.
Get a short glimpse of this at:
Digest and muse about this overlooked story, and try to think of any more worthwhile cause likely to provide as much benefit to all the citizens of the United States and Canada both. 73s TonyGuitar
PS There is a secondary, but huge story in Canada where our corrupt Liberal Government is quietly destroying our freedom of information act. The government has imposed LIFE TERM sworn oaths of secrecy in 16, now 14 ministry departments silencing over 6,000 bureaucrats under threat of very severe penalties.
The Canadian Newspaper Association, [the only interviener], has been screaming loudly about this, but seemingly only upon your deaf ears.
Since the MSM in Canada are beholding to their major advertiser, the Liberal Party, there is nary a mention of all this to the Canadian people.
Seems to me as though it would be in your interest and ours in Canada, if you would revert to being a good neighbour, forget about Chretien not joining in with George Bush in Iraq, and inform Canadians of what is happening in their own country. eh? TonyGuitar
I have one last thought about Dowd, bias, the press, and story arcs substituting for nutritious, journalistic content:
Dowd loves a good story arc. It seems more important to her than rethinking public policy, turning up underreported stories, you name it.
Turns out that the press and its reporters are being Dowd-ed. The story arc is more important than the facts.
Here's a story arc:
There is a big hurricane. The rich people get away. The poor people don't. The poor people huddle in a big sports arena. Reporters stand mostly outside, but some go in. They see crowds of people. They see lots of dirt. They see poverty close up and personal.
Then they start hearing stories from people wandering in and out of the arena that there's violence. Armed gangs roaming at night, raping small children and murdering at will. Bodies are piled up in freezers. It's like a war zone, a lawless place where women and children are terrified.
Of course, that goes nicely with the story arc that the middle/upper-middle class reporters understand. Poor people, crammed together in a sports arena, will rape, murder, and plunder. Perfect.
Oh, and add this. The poor people are mostly black. You can play the race card too. Now everyone will believe this story arc.
Is it true? Sure it's true. It's true for three weeks. Because that's the story for three weeks.
Now it's not true. There's a better story.
It doesn't give me a lot of faith in the press. I think bias paraded through the Katrina mess in full-force. It was class bias, in the form of middle-class and affluent reporters believing that poor, minority people would behave like animals. It was political bias, in that people blamed others based on their ideology and party affiliation. But it also showed how racially segregated New Orleans is. The poor are predominantly black. That much is true.
Re: the LA Times getting around to rumor control. The press is supposed to deal in verified and verifiable information. It didn't do a very credible job in passing along reports that weren't well verified at the time, and proved unverifiable later.
But you're on to something about Dowd with your story arcs, Jenny. I asked several times in this thread: what is it she does? It pays to recall that Dowd is the first "post-ideological" political columnist at the New York Times. She writes from Washington, but she is not known for her attachment to any policy community, governing philosophy, or wing of party. In the way that David Brooks stands for moderate Northeast Republicanism (even though he can't be reduced to that) and Bob Herbert for NAACP-style urban liberalism (even though he would resist such a label) we all know Maureen Dowd stands for...
Her own clevernesss? She wants us to know that, if she is a Democrat--seems likely--she's gonna be a disployal one in her column because...whew...she can really make fun of fumblin' Al Gore, and he sooooo deserves it! Thus her opinions amount to a series of sketches with the same payoff: the reader gets to say of "politicians," don't they know how ridiculous they sound?
The other thing she does is try out the quick-fitting story line. In fact, that's what a Mo column essentially is: story arc try out time. The prose alternates between her re-telling of things in the news, and her attempt to create a tidier-than-truth story line that unites those things. She's not a political columnist at all, in my view. She tidies up politics by reducing it to style. Dowd on political leadership...
Stormy is like his dad, Desert Stormy. They both love wardrobe calls: cool costumes, sports outfits, presidential windbreakers, "Top Gun" get-ups, weather gear. But leadership is not a seies of costume changes...
That is characteristic. Her column is a series of premature, overdrawn, or simplistic observations that, dressed up in the language of style, are supposed to sound witty but also urban cynical. The sensibility is Beltway-weary, media weary, image and posturing weary. Windbreakers.. gimme a break, Prez!
But crap detection as world view leads to some terrible self-delusions. Russert asked her a gotcha question, and they came out.
Thanks, Anna: I don't have any hope of affecting the culture war. Nor do I think I can "do" anything about it when it shows up, except notice, illustrate, criticize, satirize, warn, and so on. Neutralize? Nah, no hope of that either. I'd settle for describing some of its turns and tricks. Frankly I try to explain things to my own satisfaction; if I can do that, I figure readers will be interested.
It's so rooted in long and tangled histories that we're still living; there are too many rewards to the warriors, too many who want the condition to spread. It also employs people (David Horowitz, David Brock) and influences elections. But the culture war isn't imported; it's home grown. It's "in" American culture now, in us: in me, even you.
The argument I would make to participants caught up in it is not "disarm, liberals" or "stop, conservatives, your hurting America." More like... you're distorting yourself, and it follows a pattern, are you interested in that? Or: "the bias discourse is making you dumber; as an educator it is my duty to inform you."
The war miseducates its converts. I think it's sad, for example, that the culture war taught conservatives that the media with its biases "lost" Vietnam, or made it impossible for the U.S. to win after Tet, when in the service academies and the Pentagon, the people who have the biggest stake in the question have been moving away from that view for a long time.
Mark: I didn't see you as attacking me, but there were others in the thread attacking Dowd. Anyway, thanks for your corrections and further comments.