September 18, 2007

RIP Firewall Of Sanity: 2005-2007

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.


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Comments (22)

Posted by John Wilson | September 18, 2007 8:43 AM

Won't there be some fun to be had searching through the archives even if its a selective release?

Posted by Lamont P | September 18, 2007 8:53 AM

Next, maybe the Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph will see the light.

Posted by TomB | September 18, 2007 8:59 AM

Looks like a desperate attempt to join 21st century to me.
Now they'll have to start learning how to compete for the readers, who can come, but also GO in a split second...

Posted by John Wilson | September 18, 2007 9:10 AM

I hate the NYT ads on TV here in Chicago. With the elitist tone of the advertising, I'm guessing they have all the readers they are ever going to get.

Posted by Mrs. Davis | September 18, 2007 9:17 AM

No doubt the WSJ will be next because no one wants to pay for its online content either.

Posted by RBMN | September 18, 2007 9:28 AM

The only thing stupider than putting an online subscription fee on Maureen Dowd's column is Maureen Dowd. I don't know how it lasted this long.

Posted by dougf | September 18, 2007 9:49 AM

More to the point, they marginalized their supposed opinion assets during a time when political debate flooded the zone....

Oh surely not.

Did not their 'news' coverage perfectly adequately convey their 'opinion assets' without the added bother of having to actually read their supposed 'opinion' pages ?

Does it still not ?

The 'opinion' pages are if anything merely redundant. And more annoying.

Posted by NoDonkey | September 18, 2007 10:45 AM

I would pay a fee NOT to get the New York Time. Maybe Pinchy can use this a as new revenue generator. Make the Times so repugnant, that people will pay not to have to read it.

It pains me to recall how much I revered the NY Times in my 20s and what has become of it.

Posted by Sharon | September 18, 2007 10:52 AM

I have always benefited from the fact that my husband is an early riser and reads the newspaper editorial page before me. Many times I have picked up the paper and seen "Maureen Dowd Alert" which means don't even turn the page to the editorials because you might read her infantile column by accident. She writes like a frustrated old maid, calling people condescending pet names. She admires Clinton who treated his wife like dirt,ran the country for his own personal benefit and turned on his friends when it suited his purposes. As opposed to Bush, who adores his wife, treats her like a partner,has a vision for the future and never uses polls to justify his actions. Go figure.

Posted by FedUp | September 18, 2007 11:06 AM

Dont read it... aint gonna miss it! R.I.P

Posted by Clyde | September 18, 2007 12:16 PM

I wrote about this subject this morning on my own blog. I'll give you an excerpt here:

Frankly, most conservatives appreciated it when the Times put their writers behind the cordon sanitaire, which had a reverse megaphone effect in terms of the influence those columnists had on the national political discourse. If a New York Times columnist posts a column in a forest and there's nobody there to read it, does it make a difference?

But now it's two years later, and like the Berlin Wall, the TimesSelect wall has fallen. The haggard inkstained wretches are staggering across the shattered bricks and concrete, waving sheaves of (free) paper at us. Look, isn't that Maureen Whats-her-name? And Frank Whoozis? And David Whatchamacallit? Yeah, I kinda remember them. I've hardly heard a peep from them in two years, and then it was only if a column popped up in the Deseret News or some other influential newspaper like that. The silence has been nice.

Oh, well, I guess they can tell us what the O.J. arrest means for the Democrats in 2008. Joy.

Posted by Sabba Hillel | September 18, 2007 12:43 PM

THe only good part about this is that I will now have access to the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle. It is the only part of the paper worth getting if you do not live in New York and do not need the grocery store coupons that might come with it.

Of course, I get the Washington Times which has the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle so I do not even have to go online for that anyway.

Posted by Nathan | September 18, 2007 12:45 PM

From an historian's point of view, I'm absolutely ecstatic about the unfettered access to the 1851-1922 archive. No more trips to the library to read microfilm...

Posted by Ted | September 18, 2007 12:59 PM

There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

I would say that during this period, the Times only purchased "first serial rights" for some of the material it ran, and that there are pieces where the copyright thereafter reverted to the author. With the digital age dawning, the paper must have changed its terms of publication in 1986 to make plain that it retained some digital rights to anything published thereafter.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 18, 2007 1:01 PM

As my mom used to say: "Stupid people lose their customers; and then, when you give the stuff away for free, they still won't come back."

Bad news for the New Yuk Times.

Plus, Murdoch is gonna make the Wall Street Journal FREE on-line.

While "the family" that protects Pinch; just got a shot aross their bow from the Bond Holders. Yesterday's NY Times' stock price slid to a new low.

The best bet for them? Get Murdoch interested.

But even for free "select" doesn't interest me. (And, I used to be a paying customer, after I moved from New York to Califoria, in 1979; PAYING to get the New Yuk Times delivered. Hasn't filth'ied up my driveway in more than a dozen years.

And, at Drudge? Not one of the links I use.

Posted by TombZ | September 18, 2007 2:33 PM

So, how's their stock doing today? :)

"...two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program..." the stock is down 39.9%. In an up market.

(Thank you to the NYT website's handy investment calcluator and the current management team.)

That's the way for management to add value. NOT.

What's the new building worth these days?

Posted by PD Quig | September 18, 2007 3:08 PM

Who let the dogs out? Who? Who?

Posted by MarkD | September 18, 2007 3:38 PM

I used to read the Times as well. Then I realized they are on the other side. Well, having a son-in-law who was in Iraq made it personal. I actively avoid their content. If I knew who their advertisers were, I'd boycott them.

Posted by AJStrata | September 18, 2007 3:57 PM

Can we pay for the NY Times to put the wall back up???


Posted by Mwalimu Daudi | September 18, 2007 4:54 PM

The fall of the Times firewall is still no substitute for honest and accurate reporting. It's a little like having the Berlin Wall come down but the Soviet Empire still hanging on. Not exactly much of a change.

Posted by Mikey NTH | September 18, 2007 6:23 PM

With most of their archived material from the early-late twentieth century I am going to guess that a large university library may have that on line (or plans to do so if they haven't done so yet). God, twenty years ago to do any research from periodicals was a trip to the library and sufficient change for the copier. Now, the content is available and can be printed off. How marvelous.

Placing their columnists in the public domain again is the best thing I can think of. How else can they be mocked and debunked like they were in 2001-2002? The attention-needy say no attention is bad, but a sustained mockery of opinion columnists is something that is sorely needed, especially the stable of has-beens and never-weres that the NYT has.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | September 18, 2007 6:38 PM

That's certainly great news about the NYT archives. However, I had a curious experience last week when searching their more "recent" archives.

I was going thru the NYT editorial opinion archives from 2000 and 2001, to see what they were saying about the Bush/Gore election, and out of curiosity decided to keep moving along to see what their editors and letter-writers had to say about 9/11.

But when I finally got to the September page, all links between September 9th and early October 2001 were nowhere to be found. The editorials and letters to the editor suddenly reappeared on something like October 3rd.

Are they hiding something?

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