I grew up reading newspapers, and I still cruise through several on a regular basis. I have never been interested in the columnists, though, and I just figured that was my own idiosyncrasy (which it may still be).
I now have a competing explanation: Most newspaper columns are not that good. Having started a blog, which has similarities to writing a newspaper column--regular short essays on a variety of topics, I have come to realize how very difficult this is to do on a regular basis.
More than a few times I have looked at the "new post" page of Blogger and said "be more interesting." (Like Homer Simpson telling his television to be "more funny")
Ann Althouse recently got a gig as a guest columnist for the New York Times, which makes a lot of sense. She brings with her a proven track record of strong writing as well as many regular readers. (To illustrate, when she wrote about one of my posts, my traffic increased by an order of magnitude for several days). I would imagine that in the coming years, newspapers and magazines will routinely turn to successful bloggers for columnists. Blogging is a proving ground for essay-writing in which anyone can participate. This makes blogging like the American Idol for essayists--many sign up at the auditions and a few make it to the big-time, and those few are arguably the most talented.
This makes me wonder how current newspaper columnists would do if they had to start up on their own with a blog.