Here's another good reason to say "good riddance" to 2009: no more stories about newspapers crying about the need to charge for online content.

A thousand items in the self-absorbed, navel-gazing media have beaten that story to death. 2010 has been targeted as the year to bury free newspaper content on the web. Will it work? Who knows? One does know that talk is cheap. The time for action is nearly here.

News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch vowed in March that he would start charging a fee to read his papers on the Internet. The Times of London? Sure. The New York Post? Not so sure. The Wall Street Journal? Already do. New York Times publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger and NYT Co. CEO Janet Robinson last week told their staff at the Boston Globe that management is still tinkering with a pay-for-content model. What's taking them so long?

That tinkering comes two years after the NYT killed its TimesSelect model, charging to access the pearls of wisdom of its op-ed team. As the nation's premier newspaper, the NYT needs to lead the pack on the charge-for-content front. Steve Brill's Journalism Online has been around for a while, promising publishers that it has the brains and marketing savvy to generate revenues from readers and distributors for their digital content. Let's do it.

While every publisher worth his or her salt has publicly vowed to pursue online dollars, it seems much of the talk is simply hot air. A survey by the American Press Institute finds that only 51 percent of publishers believe they can successfully charge for online material. That's hardly a vote of confidence in the quality of their publications.

More than half of surveyed readers (52 percent) think it will be easy to replace information from newspapers once they are barricaded behind pay walls. The battle lines are set.

Allen Mutter, who reported on the API survey on his "Reflections of a Newsosaur" blog, believes "publishers who are worried about charging for content have good reason to be concerned."

Of course, they should be worried, but they should be more worried about the hemorrhaging of newspaper profit from their “giving it all away strategy,” a plan that just doesn’t make sense.

2010 shapes up as a very interesting year for the newspaper business.

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