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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.



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Entries tagged "Mainstream Media"

The Great White Mancave

April 13, 2012 ·

For years, researchers have parsed the nation's top op-ed sections and deemed them to be too male and too white. With this problem so openly acknowledged, you'd think that there'd be some improvement. Well, you'd be wrong.

The media reform organization FAIR, an OtherWords partner, reviewed the commentaries featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal between September and October 2011. It summarized the results in the latest edition of Extra!, the organization's monthly magazine.Newspaper Grape Purple by NS Newsflash

FAIR's report is packed with interesting data and observations. A few examples:

  • Latinos, who now make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, wrote less than 0.5 percent of the commentaries published in these three top newspapers over the two-month period.
  • African American bylines comprise 1 percent of the commentaries the Wall Street Journal published over this two-month period.
  • Women remain underrepresented in these three op-ed sections. They penned only 6 percent of the Journal's guest columns, for example.

Having tried to improve the diversity of voices that OtherWords features for the past two and a half years, I've learned that this challenge is harder than it sounds. FAIR's study serves as a great reminder of why it's so important for this editorial service to meet that challenge.

After some improvement under IPS stewardship, OtherWords is doing a better job at amplifying the voices of women and people of color than these three op-ed sections. But that's not saying much. In September and October 2011, the period FAIR reviewed, 25 percent of OtherWords commentaries were by women and 5 percent were by people of color. We can and will improve this track record.

FAIR's report also notes that these three prominent opinion sections range from right-of-center to conservative. I've noticed the same thing. The Washington Post touts centrists Dana Milbank and Richard Cohen as being part of its "left-leaning" lineup. The Post's right-leaning squad, however, is packed with "severe conservatives" like George Will and Charles Krauthammer.

FAIR also found that the Occupy movement's arrival during the period studied didn't make a dent on the overall conservative tenor of the commentaries these newspapers published. "While coverage in papers’ news sections increased dramatically from September to October (2011), the opinion pages at the Times, Post and Journal remained entirely free of the voices of those involved," wrote researcher Nick Porter.

Because the Post, Times, and Journal are widely syndicated, the imbalance in their lineups is magnified throughout the media. Their columns run in hundreds of newspapers and new media outlets. Here are some examples.

In 2007, Media Matters released an in-depth study on the rightward tilt of op-ed sections. It found that the top three, measured in terms of the number of newspapers in which they are featured, were George Will, Cal Thomas, and Kathleen Parker. Will, Thomas and Parker all appear on Townhall.com, which bills itself as "the leading source for conservative news and political commentary and analysis." Today, Thomas and Will are in about 500 newspapers and Parker's in more than 350.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Renovating The New York Times Op-Ed Section

January 31, 2011 ·

The New York Times recently named Trish Hall its next op-ed editor.

She's going to call the shots regarding who gets a guest spot in the nation's premiere opinion pages, which typically feature brilliantly written, sharply argued, and perfectly edited commentaries on sometimes dry yet always inarguably important topics.

Despite the emergence of the blogosphere and new outlets such as HuffingtonPost, the Times' op-ed section remains a go-to place for the latest angle from prominent thinkers and policy-shapers on arms control, the Middle East peace process, climate change, and health care, along with other things that really matter. You can get your fix on those topics elsewhere, but you might end up having to ponder the personal lives of Angelina Jolie and Brett Favre in the process. Besides, it's home to Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert, two of the columnists I most admire.

Hall is a mind-boggling choice. She has worked at the Times for most of the past 25 years, aside from a stint as Martha Stewart Living's executive editor. Her most recent job? She was the paper's assistant managing editor responsible for its Dining, Home, Thursday Styles, Travel, Real Estate, and Sunday Styles sections. As Dave Barry (another of my favorite columnists, but one who traditionally wouldn't be serious enough for the section Hall will soon run) would say, I'm not making this up.

I've had my own unusual career twists and turns. But as hard as I try, I just can't understand the logic here. How can the same person be capable of bringing readers the best home-decorating and dinner-party-throwing tips as well as the sharpest analysis on New START and the "birther" movement? If I were her, I'd be happy to focus on the tea party instead of tea parties, but where's the evidence that she harbored that desire? I scoured a Q&A with her from 2007 and found no sign of those aspirations. In response to a question about how the Times' Living section picks the right topics to pursue, however, she did assert that lifestyle journalism takes the same kind of inquisitiveness as all other forms of the trade:

"It's that great eureka moment we all love, when we hear a phenomenon mentioned that we have never before heard of. It's the thrill of the new, and we are all then consumed by the same drive: to find out what, and why and how, and to write a story. That's why we're journalists, and no matter what we cover, it's the same process."

One of the paper's most prominent writers in the six sections under her control will be making a similar move. Mark Bittman has ended his "Minimalist" column after 13-years and will write instead a column in the op-ed section in which he plans to "advocate, essentially, for eaters’ rights" as well as a column called "On Food" for The New York Times Magazine. That's a change that makes perfect sense to me, as it will to fans of OtherWords' food and farming section. Presumably, there will be more op-eds on these issues as well. I have to admit, those commentaries are much more fun to edit than all those dry yet important topics. Hey, if Hall doesn't pan out, maybe the New York Times can give me a call.