Pinching the Gray Lady

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Today The New York Times hastened its own irrelevance by placing the work of two of its most easily replaceable genres of writer — opinion columnists and sports bloviators — behind a paid firewall. Apparently, that $1.8 billion annual gross profit just ain't cutting it.

Which recalls those dot-contastic days of my youth, when self-conscious "Netrepreneurs" like Michael Kinsley tried to convince us that charging money for online opinion journalism would somehow "be among the Web's great contributions to democracy," before hastily retreating from the yawning silence to whine that, "It may just have been that we were too early." The L.A. Times is still reeling from a disastrous paid-firewall experiment, and meanwhile, the one example anyone can point to of a big newspaper charging for online content and getting away with it — The Wall Street Journal — sends me about four "Hey Blogger!" e-mails a day hyping articles and columns it's giving away for free.

The interesting part will come not by watching how columnists like Thomas "Michael Mandelbaum" Friedman react to a world so suddenly un-flat that his Bangalore golfing buddies can no longer immediately read his metaphors, but rather what the litigious Sulzbergers will do when, inevitably, every column worth reading — and many that are not — will be cut and pasted whole onto other people's websites.