Despite the enormous popularization of blogging and other public media, the New York Times bucked the trend yesterday with an announcement that it will start charging readers a fee to read the articles of its opinion columnists.
In all honesty, when I first heard the news, I thought it was some sort of joke. Surely the Times wouldn't do something so stupid, especially after seeing the Wall Street Journal became a virtual nonentity online. The NYT's move is especially bizarre considering that since the Journal became a total subscriber site in the late 90s, it's been gradually moving toward freer content through the creation of OpinionJournal.com, periodic free subscription programs, and a recent campaign to free some articles which may be of interest to bloggers.
Sure, some people will be dumb enough to register for the program. But most people, especially those who have no idea who the likes of Tom Friedman or Paul Krugman are, certainly will not. That's because to most people, an opinion slinger is far less valuable than the stuff he or she writes. People develop relationships with columnists, it's true, but only after they've done so with their writing.