Columnists for Sale: The Tally

Slate voters rank the New York Times op-ed stable.

Maureen Dowd: Not as cheap as we thought

Paul Krugman wins. John Tierney loses.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The New York Times will soon start charging to read its op-ed columnists online. The Times is offering its columnists as an all-or-nothing deal, but I proposed that each columnist be priced according to his or her value. I invited readers to allocate a $25 fee among the eight op-ed regulars. (The fee is actually going to be $49.95, but I made the rough estimate that access to the Times archive, which is also to be included in the package, will represent half the value.) An even allocation, I noted, would be a subscription price of $3.13 to read any given columnist online for one year. But not all Times op-ed columnists are equally worth reading. Hence my reader poll.


The poll was a stunning success—and that, I’m afraid, created a problem here in the Chatterbox War Room. Even though I limited the voting time to roughly four and a half hours, I ended up with about 1,000 entries. That was roughly 10 times as many as what I imagined to be a likely upper limit. Each entry, remember, contained eight numbers for me to enter into a spreadsheet. And devoted though I may be to my readers, there was no way I was going to enter 8,000 numbers into my Microsoft Excel program. (Memo to the several hundred people who have continued to vote since the deadline three days ago: Please stop.)

Because I was working backward from entries filed precisely on deadline, it took me a little while before I realized the enormity of the task before me. When I did, I was despondent. There was no way to automate this process, and no way even to hand it off to somebody else—forwarding 1,000 e-mails being almost as big a pain as tallying their contents. After much soul-searching, I decided that I would continue tallying until I had entered every vote cast during the poll’s last half hour. So that is what I did.


This means, of course, that anybody who voted during the nearly four-hour period preceding that last half hour was disenfranchised. To them I offer apologies. The early birds lost the worm! Their votes weren’t counted. Now you know what it feels like to vote for your state’s losing presidential candidate under the Electoral College system.

Clearly my failure to count all the entries renders my data less robust than I’d like. Also, while I tried to weed out all entries where the allocations failed to add up to $25, it’s possible one or two got past me. In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that when I added up my averages, the total came to $23.81, which of course is a bit short of the $25 that I was supposed to get. I don’t think I can call that a rounding error, since I rounded up, not down. What can I say? We live in an imperfect world.


But enough dithering. You want to see the results. Remember that any dollar amount above $3.13 indicates that the columnist in question is judged by Chatterbox readers to be, at least within the Times orbit, better than average, while any dollar amount below $3.13 indicates that the columnist is judged to be worse than average.


The Times columnists, in descending order of perceived value:

Paul Krugman: $6.90

Thomas L. Friedman: $4.10

Frank Rich: $3.92

Maureen Dowd: $3.42

Nicholas Kristof: $2.35

Bob Herbert: $1.42

David Brooks: $1.39

John Tierney: $0.31

A word of encouragement to John Tierney: Your dismally poor showing almost certainly reflects not the quality of your column (which, even though I rarely agree with it, is high) so much as its newness to the page. People haven’t gotten to know you yet. That the two most conservative Times columnists—Tierney and David Brooks—are the two lowest-ranking may reflect some liberal bias among Slate readers, or even some liberal bias within Chatterbox himself. (Let he who is without sin …)

A word of warning to Paul Krugman: Don’t let this go to your head. Your fans (this one, at least) enjoy you best when you stick to your field of economics.

A word of congratulations to Tom Friedman: This has got to be the first time in history that a Times op-ed columnist specializing in foreign affairs scored this high in a popularity poll. C.L. Sulzberger never had it so good.