When Romenesko published the New York Times’ announcement of their expanded online opinion pages yesterday, Alternet editor Sarah Jaffe tweeted, “New York Times expands opinion coverage; only one woman has an opinion.” The plan announced by the paper certainly leaves room for more female contributors, whether in the “Frequent Op-Eds that will be exclusively available to online readers”‘ “Op-Docs, opinionated, short-video documentaries, with wide creative ranges, about current affairs and contemporary life from both renowned and emerging filmmakers”; the “among others” category in the new Campaign Stops blog, for which all announced contributors are men, or the “Additional enhancements to the Global Opinion section.” But it’s absolutely true that of all the names of people who are meant to get us excited about this new section, only one, that of naturalist Diane Ackerman, is a woman’s.
If what the Times wants is to bring in new readers with this revamp, the most glaringly obvious thing they could do is embrace diversity, not just of writers, but of subject material. I know that getting a slot at the Times is supposed to be a reward and validation, a career summing-up (Which, by the way, I think is worth challenging. Editorial pages would be more interesting if columnists had limited-term slots.), but that isn’t incompatible with going out, finding some folks who have built interesting sites and have valuable things to say, and buying, or at least renting, their content and their readership. Not everyone is drawn to a paper by the same thing. And not every views the experience of white men as equally valuable.
And more to the point, it’s always astonishing to me that the folks who put out these press releases, and these white dude-heavy lineups, don’t seem to understand how they look to other people, to other potential consumers. If you’re surrounded by older white men all day, I understand that might not look aberrational to you. But do people seriously not recognize that what is normal (and desirable) for them is not necessarily normal or desirable for everyone else? That doesn’t seem particularly hard to consider. And yet it’s a small cognitive effort that a lot of publishers seem to have tremendous difficulty making.