last week there was a bit of talk about the new york times' decision to start charging for access to its op-ed page. atrios predicted that in the long run, it will make their columnists irrelevant to the debate. i think he's wrong on this one.
the times columnists are syndicated and (i think) they all appear in a lot of other newspapers around the country (e.g. 1 2). unless the times' pay-to-play practice catches on with everyone else, the columnists will still be part of the online conversation. the only thing that won't be accessable for free will be the editorials and the letters to the editor. but they aren't that big a part of the conversation right now.