The Wall Street Journal is less ambitious in the scope of its op-ed pages. The paper requires submissions be exclusive, timely, and ‘jargon-free’. The Washington Post gives similar requirements for submissions.
So how well do the papers do at providing diversity? Given that Warren Buffett, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen, Gordon Brown, Gloria Steinem, former US national intelligence director Dennis Blair, and noted bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel were among the 114 unique op-ed contributors (a few of these, mostly Sunday contributors, had multiple op-eds), of the past thirty days, one might wonder if it does help getting published in the New York Times to be a little famous.
From my analysis of the past month’s bylines, New York Times readers were treated to the views of forty-one academics (ten at Ivy League institutions), forty writers and journalists, nine presidents and one vice president of an organization or think tank, four current and former political office holders. While the contributions opined on a wide variety of topics—“Why do Russians hate ice?” to “Drones Alone are not the Answer” —and reflected geographic diversity, they originated from a rather narrow class of well-educated and successful individuals. When contributions did occasionally focus on working class issues—“Isolated, Vulnerable and Broke” told of the fast decreasing fortunes of Hispanic families in America—they were expressed in the voice of an Ivy League academic.
Perhaps not surprisingly, The Wall Street Journal’s contributors represent an even narrower and more important class than that of the Times. In the past thirty days—I counted 130 unique contributors—Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, Senator Patty Murray (twice), and Karl Rove (multiple times) opined for the Journal. There were seven writers with connections to the American Enterprise Institute (Golub among them) and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. There were also a good number of academics, journalists and business leaders.
The Wall Street Journal may be a paper primarily for the business minded, but the business-minded could also benefit from perspective outside its bandwidth, to get a sense of how policies affect people, and perspectives—those of workers and consumers —they should ultimately be interested in.
Part of the problem may be a lack of submissions, and perhaps these op-ed pages are as representative as the submissions they receive. But if that’s the case, it surely wouldn’t be difficult for papers to find individuals from the “other half” with worthy (and fresh) things to say. Perhaps editors could take a more active role in soliciting contributions; certainly the Internet has proven that there are lots of articulate people out there who want to speak their minds. For editors, it could be as easy as looking for blogs and combing comments.
Readers should, of course, hear about issues from the people who know and understand them best. This means academics, journalists, and policymakers, sure; but there should also be space for the perspective of people that live the issues, not just those that study them.