Editors told me that though they hope for a gender- and ethnically-balanced page, most said that achieving this is secondary to having an original, provocative and topically-diverse page. Almost all the editors I spoke with bristled at the notion of any sort of diversity ‘quota,’ or the sort of rigid prescription for the op-ed pages like that once applied to USA Today’s front page (For many years, the paper mandated the mention of at least one woman and one person of color above the paper’s fold; and indeed, USA Today has long led newspapers in diversity statistics.)
“It’s not just that you want men and women, you want really different people with really different backgrounds. Aiming at varieties of experience is just as important,” says Trish Hall, the op-ed editor at The New York Times. Hall’s section gets 1500 submissions per week, and she receives many more sent to her personal inbox, but they’re not often from the sort of unheard voices she wants more of; they’re largely from the opinion industry. “The hardest thing to find in this deluge of opinions is something that you haven’t actually read before. There’s not that much original thinking going on.”
That’s a worthy priority; it’s also one we’ll bet is easier to achieve with more voices of women and members of minority groups in the mix.
Correction: The original version of this piece mentioned that Richard Prince was a columnist at USA Today. Prince is not a columnist at USA Today, but is Diversity Committee chair of the Association of Opinion Journalists. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.