Friedman Agonistes

Will the New York Times columnist read himself?

“I work for a newspaper[;] that is where my paycheck comes from. But I believe that all online newspapers should be free, and on principle I refuse to pay for an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I have not read the paper copy of the New York Times regularly for two years. I read it only online.”

—Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat, Page 102

“The New York Times announced yesterday that it would offer a new subscription-based service on its Web site, charging users an annual fee to read its Op-Ed and news columnists, as the newspaper seeks ways to capitalize on the site’s popularity.”

—Timothy Williams, “ to Offer Subscription Service,” the New York Times, May 17, 2005

(Thanks to D.J. of Mercer Island, Wash.)

Update, 2:25 PDT: Friedman says I ought to have included the next sentence in his passage:

“But what if my daughters’ generation, which is being raised to think that newspapers are something to be accessed online for free, grows up and refuses to pay for the paper editions? Hmmm. I loved until it started providing a global platform that wasn’t selling only my new books but also used versions. And I am still not sure how I feel about Amazon offering sections of this book to be browsed online for free.”

So Friedman’s feelings about whether information ought to be free on the Web are mixed. What emerges from the fuller quote is that this passage isn’t really a discussion about “principle” at all. It’s a discussion about what best serves Tom Friedman’s economic self-interest. Yet as I read it, Friedman is still saying that, at this moment in history (i.e., the moment during which we await Friedman’s daughters’ generation growing up to refuse to pay for a paper New York Times), Friedman believes all newspaper Web sites should be free. Or rather, Friedman believed that right up until the moment the Times decided to start charging to read his column online.