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Friday, July 29, 2005

The News Fit to Print, Er, Charge Internet Subscribers

The New York Times will soon be charging internet readers for select columnists and features at the price of nearly $50 a year. Here's a good read on the thought process behind the move. I don't necessarily fault them for seeking more revenue--and they are trying to make it an attractive package--but I still think there is a risk of marginalization in the Age of the Blog. With so much free commentary already out there, many readers may feel disinclined to shell out the cash. I am one of those readers. To me, the "base" will pay the fee, but there will be a loss of readers that will limit the Times' opportunity to shape opinion and transform the culture. Incidentally, the Times of London has gone in the opposite direction and made its content free. And I'm reading daily.
Maybe I'm wrong about this. I'd love to hear your thoughts. But either way, let's take the opportunity to comment on those whose columns we would miss should we choose not to pay:

The Interactive
This group is composed of those who despite embracing thier political convictions, choose to critique their own ideological camps, see issues through more than a partisan lens, want to actually engage and resolve issues rather than just win political battles, and who actually interact with the other side.

David Brooks: A terrific hire who has worked hard to defuse caricatures of neo-conservatism, evangelicalism and other aspects of a diverse conservative movement. But he also criticizes his own, as with the Newsweek flap a couple of months ago. His cultural criticism, while not academic (or intending to be), is fun to read.

Nicholas Kristof: He has been borderline heroic in bringing attention to Darfur and even giving credit to those he disagrees with, evangelicals, for highlighting the Sudan tragedy. Makes a pretty decent case about North Korea, too. Again, more interested in dealing with real issues than scoring points. Read his latest column, about why we know more about the Runaway Bride than genocide in Sudan.

Thomas Friedman: Sure, he lives in his head a little bit and injects himself into every column. But he's an independent and innovative thinker who can't easily be boxed in. A pro-war liberal whose insights always seem fresh, pertinent, and worth discussion even when disagreeing with him. I for one am skeptical about his dream of Westernizing the Middle East, but appreciate his thoughts on the matter.

The Incendiaries
These columnists are polemicists who rile the base via slash-and-burn critique. They may be good writers (Dowd ten years ago and especially Rich), but their contribution to political discourse leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, I am aware that there are conservative equivalents. But they're not writing at the Times...

Frank Rich: I think Rich is a great stylist. I find myself chuckling at his turn-of-phrase and even agree with him on rare occasion (I'm trying to be nice, here). But I sometimes pull my hair out at his relentless fighting of the Decency Wars, his obsession with Mel Gibson, his limited understanding of evangelicals, and the foibles that come with being an art critic writing about politics. His white hat/black hat, good vs. evil paradigm could give any fundamentalist a run for the money.

Paul Krugman: Became a veritable Leftist folk hero with his froth during the first Bush term and re-election season. I'd love a little irony, a compliment to a political opponent, something to show me he's not a shrill partisan.

Maureen Dowd: So Nineties. Perfect for the Clinton Era. Occasionally turned her savage wit toward the President himself, though most was reserved for Ken Starr. But nowadays her stuff just feels tired. Every column seems the same. Bushworld redux ad nauseum. Cute nicknames for the players, sinister intentions, predictable opinions, and a paucity of original analysis. Yawn. Her tribute to her recently deceased mother, though, was terrific.


The Irrelevants
This group is ideologically diverse and self-explanatory...

John Tierney: This is probably unfair, but half the time I just can't bring myself to read the guy. The issues aren't exciting me. Probably deserves more of a chance, but I'm waiting to be hooked...

Bob Herbert: Wow, what can you say? I mean, here's a guy who today raised from the ashes the argument that Iraq, after all, was all about oil. Here's a snippet:
Iraq was supposed to be a first step. Iran was also in the neoconservatives' sights. The neocons envisaged U.S. control of the region (and its oil), to be followed inevitably by the realization of their ultimate dream, a global American empire. Of course it sounds like madness, which is why we should have been paying closer attention from the beginning.

Um, yes Bob, it does sound like madness. Now go on down the hall to Mr. Brooks' office and actually meet a neoconservative.

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