The Times has been producing syndication feeds of its content since 1998, presumably for content partners like Asahi Shimbun in Japan. Two years ago, a MetaFilter user revealed the URL of the Times machine where these feeds were available. You could use a dozen different feeds until the paper eventually shut it down. The format wasn't RSS, but it was close enough to easily convert.
I thought it was great news when Userland struck the deal -- having my favorite paper in an easy-to-read format doesn't suck. I'm now much more productive when I obsess over Michiko Kakutani.
Would it be better if the Times was making the feeds public for all? Sure, but they've had four years to offer that service and have declined -- there's apparently some resistance to the idea.
To my knowledge, the deal with Userland is the first time the Times has offered its XML feeds directly to readers using news aggregation software. I'm jazzed about that. Most daily newspapers are still ignorant about the benefit of offering these feeds, and getting the nation's most prestigious newspaper onboard -- even if only halfway -- could persuade them.