The Independent has now followed The Times and decided to charge for access to a large part of its online content including, sadly, opinion items. You can debate the rights and wrongs of this as a commercial strategy but I think this is a great shame in terms of global discourse.

The internet, helped by weblogs, has allowed an unprecedented level of debate and cross-reading among English speakers globally, particularly between American and British readers. Ten years ago an op-ed piece in the Independent would rarely have achieved an audience beyond the British readership of the paper. I know from looking at my site stats that items such as the recent John Lloyd piece on sovereignty and some of Johann Hari’s articles have been linked to and read by many American weblogs. I doubt many Americans will be tempted now to pay for that access though.

People sometimes snigger at the hyperbole that surrounds the ‘blogosphere’ perhaps with some justification but until I started reading blogs I would never have thought of subscribing to an American magazine such as the New Republic. The option was always there but a quick link from a blog helped to guide me to the most interesting stuff. I don’t read the Washington Post op-eds every day but thanks to blog links I will check out interesting items I am pointed to.

I can buy the Indie and read it every day. It is a waste of money for me to subscribe to it online. I can’t really link to anything from the paper or The Times as I would simply be leading most readers to an advertisement now and therefore wasting their time. The interesting discussions we had among ourselves on the comment boxes and across blogs on some of the issues raised by Johann Hari in the Independent will no longer be possible.

The Times charges ‘overseas’ readers accessing their site. UK surfers can get it for free. Someone, somewhere at News Corp decided it was time to cash in on the growing phenomena of Americans reading British papers online. Instead, like the Independent, they have taken a step to kill it off.