“They know I’m not going to issue some sort of fatwa on the blog,” said Stephen J. Dubner.
It was Monday afternoon, and Mr. Dubner was on the phone from the cafeteria at the New York Times building. The Times has just recruited him as a blogger—and he thinks the paper’s executives might feel more comfortable with his blogging skills than with your average rogue opinion jockey.
Mr. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt began blogging at freakonomics.com in March of 2005, establishing the site as a spin-off from their wildly successful book Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. The blog, too, became a big hit, and now the two are taking it to the majors. As of August 8, the blog will appear exclusively in the opinion section of The Times’ Web site. This is the first time The Times has taken a free-standing, independent blog and published it under the aegis of nytimes.com. Fittingly, the move caps months of negotiations between the company and the two bloggers.
“I think they were willing to try this out with someone they were familiar with more readily than if I were a total stranger,” said Mr. Dubner, who worked at The New York Times Magazine in the mid-1990’s as an editor and who still contributes to its pages.
Vivian Schiller, the senior vice president and general manager of nytimes.com, said the “symbiotic relationship” was part of an ongoing strategy. “We’ve opened our site up considerably over the last year,” she said. “We have more and more voices and people who are not New York Times reporters or columnists on the site. This is the first established blog that we’ve picked up. But it won’t be the last.”
According to Mr. Dubner, several months ago, he and Mr. Levitt began shopping around for a larger media outlet to host their blog. Along the way, the authors met with several suitors. He would not describe the financial terms of the partnership with The Times.
But one element of the negotiations he did explain. He said readers will be able to access the full content free—placing it outside of the TimesSelect paid area.
“As much as I love The Times, I didn’t want to be part of TimesSelect,” said Mr. Dubner. “That would have been the only deal-breaker.”
He said that the blog will expand to include more video segments, additional links to external sites, and the occasional Q.&A. with the likes of Jim Cramer of “Mad Money.”
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