'NYT' Waives Fee for Syndicated Obama Op-Ed After Complaints

By: Joe Strupp The New York Times, which ran an Op-Ed column Sunday by President Barack Obama, has decided not to charge syndication clients who want to run the piece after some complaints from editorial page editors.

Nancy Lee, editor of The New York Times Syndication Service, said the guest Op-Ed on health care reform initially went out on the syndicate's list of available content like any other guest column. But she said the syndicate chose to waive the fee on Monday after some complaints.

"We routinely sell Op-Eds because we have contracts with providers of content," Lee told E&P Tuesday. "We put the Obama piece out as something to buy."

Lee said by the end of Monday at least four news outlets had bought the column, including one in another country. She did not have the specific identities of those that had purchased the column or the price paid, noting each paper pays a different fee based on circulation size.

"We decided that we shouldn't be selling it, so we stopped and decided not to bill people who ran it and we made it available to clients of our Op-Ed service," Lee added.

The charging issue sparked a flurry of comments among members of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, including several who blogged about it on their Web sites.

Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney of the Post-Star in Glens Falls, N.Y., wrote, "You'd think the president of our country would want all of his constituents to have that information, in order to help them make a thoughtful decision on his health care plan. But apparently, that explanation isn't for all Americans -- just those who live in communities where their local newspapers are willing to pay for it. (We're not, by the way.)"

The New York Times Syndication Service handles distribution of all guest columns, as well as some other Times content such as the famed crossword puzzle. Other staff-written content is usually distributed through The New York Times News Service.

Lee did not know if Obama had been paid for his column. Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal, whose department oversees guest Op-Ed pieces, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

"We shouldn't have done it," Lee said about the initial charging for the column. "We should have thought longer about selling this particular piece because it is unique."


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