Reality check

The New York Times has announced that starting next fall, its op-ed pages will be only be available online to people who pay a $50 subscription. The response from the blogs has been predictably negative, in the way that wood ticks might complain if they found that their ability to suck blood from deer in the forest was about to be curtailed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not any happier about this than any other blogger — sometimes I feel like half my posts are devoted to Mister McBobo — but we do need to have a little reality check here. Those of us who partake in this little game of online commentary, either as writers or readers, tend to have a skewed view of, well, our own importance. I genuinely hate to take issue with Markos, for whom I have the greatest respect, but the notion that the Times will become irrelevant as a result of this move borders on delusional. Look, the Times is — well, it’s the Times. It’s the house organ for the New York/DC power axis, it’s the hometown paper for the residents of the largest and arguably most important city in this country, and it looks to be one of the few newspapers currently whose circulation is actually rising.

In short, they own the ball, the bat, the field and the bleachers, and if they decide to start charging us to enter, then we either pay or find a way to peek in through the fence (Times op-ed columns are usually syndicated out pretty quickly). But they don’t become irrelevant because the slim minority of their readership which reaches them via the snarky commentary of bloggers such as your host can no longer do so. (I’m not even sure the benefits of being online outweigh the negatives, from their perspective. You think Thomas Friedman thinks he’s losing out here?)

One more thing: the suggestion that “in a world of endless punditry,” Paul Krugman is “easily replaceable” is equally misguided. Personally, I’d like to believe that Brooks and Tierney are easily replaceable, but even those two have influence far disproportionate to their insight, simply by virtue of the real estate they occupy. And Krugman — well, he actually is pretty irreplacable. He’s very, very smart — on the verge of winning the Nobel Prize smart — and not only does he enjoy similarly prestigious placement, he uses his power for good and not evil. He’s one of our best and most prominent advocates, and it’s just silly to suggest that he will no longer matter, as a result of the Times’ new policy. The blogs just aren’t that important, not yet, and maybe not ever.