We're talking a few cents a column. Less than a stick of gum. It isn't a lot. But still it's finding few takers. The numbers haven't improved much since I first discussed them in the Boston Herald last year. (That column, incidentally, earned me a feeble online hit job from the house journal of the newspaper establishment, the Columbia Journalism Review. It will be interesting to see what it says if TimesSelect closes.) There's an old journalism adage that "facts are sacred, but opinion is free." As the Times shows, in the age of the Internet, it seems to be truer than ever. The columnists have to compete with an army of bloggers, from the Huffington Post and Daily Kos on down, who give away their commentary and opinion for nothing. Meanwhile, anyone who writes online learns very quickly that the public wants facts and hard news, not just jawboning about what the secretary of state should say to the president of Iran. An example: This column, which smacks of an essay, will probably get a tiny fraction of the Web traffic that I'll get next time I file a straight news report on a hedge fund getting into trouble. Maybe Sulzberger should try giving away Maureen Dowd for free, and charging for hard news. Now that would be interesting.