I come not to praise Times Select, but to bury it. Richard Perez-Pena could have written those words at the top of his story for the New York Times today, but he chose to wax more prosaic in reporting the end of the subscription service at the Paper of Record. Not only will the paper make current content available without restriction, but it will also make most of its archives available for free as well (via Memeorandum):
The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.
The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.
In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.
That split archive seems rather strange. Obviously their entire history exists on their server, because otherwise the Times couldn't make 1857-1922 available to Internet searches, public domain or not. Why charge for the Walter Duranty era? How will the Times decide whether to charge for an archive retrieval or not? Perhaps years in which the Yankees won the World Series will be free, but in other years it won't?
Still, the archive policy is rather generous, compared to the rest of the industry, but that doesn't excuse the silly TimesSelect program's existence in the first place. As I wrote when the Times created its Firewall of Sanity, it kept compulsive readers like me from accidentally reading Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and other nonsense routinely featured in the Paper of Record. Supposedly it meant to provide a revenue model for newspapers in the Internet age, but the Times only took in $10 million in the two years it operated, and they have discovered that advertising on unfettered access could have generated more.
More to the point, they marginalized their supposed opinion assets during a time when political debate flooded the zone -- and now no one cares much about what their columnists have to say about it. That's what happens when newspapers force readers to pay for opinion but keep the news free. Had the Times actually thought through the implications of their actions, they would have realized that they charged for access to the wrong section.
Why didn't they lift the Firewall of Sanity today? It turns out Bob Hebert wrote a column about GOP "dirty tricks" that starts off with the Willie Horton issue -- which originated from that stalwart Republican, Al Gore. And it was hardly a "dirty trick"; it was negative campaigning, but giving furloughs to convicted murderers was a legitimate issue regarding Michael Dukakis' record as governor. The Republicans added Horton's mugshot to the original Gore campaign ad, which people complained "put a black face on crime", but it was Horton's face. That's hardly a "dirty trick" either. In their other ubiquitous ad, Revolving Doors, the Bush 41 campaign showed nineteen men going through a supposed prisonyard gate, sixteen of whom were white. It wasn't exactly a race-based campaign.
Bob Hebert is one reason I'll mourn the TimesSelect Firewall of Sanity. Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman are two others. I'm sure there will be more.