Want to e-Mail a ‘NY Times’ Columnist? Better Subscribe to TimesSelect

By: Joe Strupp

If you haven’t signed up for TimesSelect, The New York Times’ online subscription product, don’t bother e-mailing the paper’s star columnists.

Since the Times put the words of its eight Op-Ed columnists behind a paid wall last September, it has also decided that only TimesSelect subscribers should be allowed to e-mail Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, et al.

Back in September the Times asked the hundreds of papers who publish the Op-Ed contributors through The New York Times News Service (NYTNS) to stop printing the writers’ e-mail addresses with the columns (and to take the columns off their Web sites, too). Apparently not everyone got the message, because last week the Times’ syndication service sent out an advisory reminding its client papers to remove the e-mail addresses.

“If you are not a TimesSelect subscriber you won’t have access to that e-mail functionality,” Times spokesman Toby Usnik confirmed Tuesday. “It centralizes [the columnists’ e-mails] around the TimesSelect site.”

But instead of being able to put an address in a mail program and fire it off at your leisure, TimesSelect subscribers now have to fill out an online form similar to the generic feedback forms found on many Web sites.

“I think it is a bad idea,” said Keith Runyon, opinion editor at The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, which runs all of the Times Op-Ed columnists. “Our goal is to give readers as much information as we can.” Steve Smith, editorial page editor at The Republican in Springfield, Mass., which also runs the Times’ columnists, agrees. “I would prefer that readers be allowed to e-mail columnists directly,” he said. “We don’t make readers pay to comment on editorials.”

The Times has been reluctant to provide the most recent data on TimesSelect subscribers, last revealing more than a month ago that some 330,000 people had signed up for TimesSelect. About half of those are believed to be print subscribers who receive complimentary Web access as part of their home delivery plan.

Usnik denied that the limit on e-mails was an effort to get readers at newspapers syndicating the columnists to pay for TimesSelect instead of their local paper. “That is not the intent,” Usnik said. But when asked what those newspaper readers should do to be able to contact the columnists, he urged them to sign up and pay the additional fee. “The recommendation would be that they consider subscribing to TimesSelect.”

News of the NYTNS advisory to client papers first appeared on the www.rawstory.com site last Friday, and by Tuesday night the story had over 45 comments.

“We let them know that they can direct readers who are interested in e-mailing Op-Ed columnists to TimesSelect,” Usnik said about the advisory. “The previous e-mail addresses are no longer valid. It was simply informing them.”

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