Who we are and what we do: an Internet-researched update: some things change rapidly in our modern world ... but some things, like the profile of editorialists, don't seem to have changed much at all.
Eleven years ago, opinion writers gathered information by direct interviews and through print versions of newspapers and news magazines or research bibles, like Congressional Quarterly or Facts on File, according to Klement's survey.
Today, opinion writers' primary research tool outside of direct interviews is the Internet. We use it for access to read court documents, to listen to webcasts of government meetings, to find statistics, and to compare various versions of news events. When we use old standbys like Congressional Quarterly, we are more likely to do it online.
New technology also has spurred creativity in the way we do our jobs. Today we have blogs to express up-to-the-minute opinions and podcasts to interview newsmakers or to "broadcast" editorials. And many of us are experimenting with video editorials posted on our newspapers or station's website. NCEW now regularly schedules sessions during its annual conventions about Web possibilities (expect special critique sessions at conventions to come that focus on online projects).
But beyond that, opinion writers still seem to have the same characteristics described in the 1995 survey. In an analysis done for his master's degree and published in The Masthead, Klement, editorial page editor of The Herald in Bradenton, Florida, said the average editor was a 49-year-old white male working for a 100,000-circulation newspaper. Although no new research replicates Klement's, it appears that little has changed, based on annual surveys of one hundred NCEW members over the past two years.
NCEW's survey, to be clear, is designed to determine how best we can serve members, not to assimilate profiles, and it includes editorial writers and broadcasters as well as editors. Still, it shows most of us working at newspapers between 50,000 and 100,000 with staffs ranging from one to fourteen (the average is two to five staff members). Most of us, the surveys indicate, have been in the opinion writing business for more than twenty years. That suggests that while we know there are some editorialists who are in their twenties and thirties, today's editorial pages still tend to draw journalists with years of experience and are likely well over forty.
Klement reported that 26 percent of editors in 1995 identified themselves as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans, 32 percent as independent (with 16 percent not responding). It may be dangerous to compare columnists and editorial writers (even when some serve both functions) but lacking an update on editorial writers, new research hints that not much has changed. The University of San Francisco's J. Michael Robertson recently surveyed 154 newspaper columnists. Of those who identified themselves as political, 22 percent associated themselves with Democrats, 20 percent were Republicans, and 44 percent were independents.
In terms of diversity, opinion staffs today tend to be led by white males and staffed mostly by white males. In an estimate based largely on NCEW membership lists over the past three years, about 73 percent of staffs are headed by white males and 23 percent by white females. At least two staffs are headed by black females and at least four by black males. At least two newspaper editorial pages are headed by male Native Americans and two by Hispanic males. In 1995, Klement reported that 71 percent of editorial editors were male and 29 percent female; and of that group, 97 percent were white.
Overall, a membership count in 2005 showed that of about 580 members, 24 percent were female and 76 percent male. There is no accurate breakdown of staff membership, although lists of full staffs, where they exist, tend to show that while efforts to increase diversity are making a difference, the majority still are likely to be white males.
Let me emphasize that this attempted update is not a scientific survey, but it generally coincides with a review of published journalism surveys and other reports.
Klement's survey suggests that opinion editors tend to be hard-working journalists who base their opinions largely on independent research. Based on my personal knowledge of NCEW members since I joined the organization in 1985, I would wholeheartedly support that conclusion then and now. The only real difference I have seen over the past twenty years is not in who we are but in the new equipment we use. New technology allows us to go directly to our sources and rely less on secondhand research. We can also interact more with readers. Altogether, that makes for better-informed opinions.
In looking to the future, it is nearly impossible to gauge whether the standard profile will sustain itself for another ten years. Not only is technology changing but also the demographics of readers. They are relying more on niche markets catering to their personal interests. Opinion writers could be more diverse--one of NCEW'S long-term goals--but they may also be writing for smaller publications with more defined audiences.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In 1995, David E. Klement, editorial page editor of The Herald in Bradenton, Florida, performed a study profiling American editorial page editors, which served as his master's thesis at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg. Klement's remarkable work updated a 1989 demographic profile of editorialists performed by G. Cleveland Wilhoit and Dan W. Drew, both then professors at Indiana University. Klement's research--the last comprehensive demographic profile of editorialists conducted in the United States--was reproduced in the Fall 1996 issue of Masthead under a most appropriate headline: "Who we are and what we do."
RELATED ARTICLE: What NCEW members said ...
Who are you NCEW people?
--NCEW member Lisa Boyles
EDITOR'S NOTE: In March, new NCEW member Lisa M. Boyles, associate editorial page editor of The Fresno Bee, sent out one of her first NCEW listserv messages. She wanted to know who all those curious people were who were sending out messages so often to each other. As Sherid Virnig at NCEW headquarters assured Lisa, we are "a very congenial group." Sheri, as always, was being kind. As the collected responses to Lisa's message clearly indicate, we are also an idiosyncratic group. A (congenially) sardonic group. But, above all, we are just the sort of group you'd like to hang with if your thing happens to be lolling around a bar discussing international trade policy or the latest contretemps between the White House and Congress.
CHRISTIAN TREJBAL, The Roanoke Times: Hi Lisa, and welcome. By way of introduction, I joined NCEW in 1999 when I became an editorial writer at The Bulletin, in Bend, Ore. Last year I moved to The Roanoke Times in Virginia, where I'm still writing edits, I'm single, 35 years old, and grew up in Cleveland. My favorite color varies and is probably blue right now.
LORRAINE BRANHAM, director, School of Journalism, University of Texas: Hi Lisa. Congratulations on the new job. I am a member of NCEW but not a working editorial page writer or editor. I used to be on the editorial board at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I now teach editorial writing in the UT School of Journalism, where I am also the director. I consider the institutional opinion an important function of the newspaper business and I worry about what will happen to that role in the new world of online journalism. Welcome to the club. (A quote at the bottom of Lorraine's e-mail): "I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon."--Tom Stoppard, British playwright
ED WILLIAMS, Charlotte Observer: Nosey, aren't you? I got to be an editorial writer by asking: Reese Cleghorn, who was the Observer's editorial page editor at the time, was a friend and had an opening. I liked the intellectual challenge of writing opinion more than I liked the thrill of the chase that draws many people to reporting.
Gee, I feel like I just wrote my own obit. Welcome to the cult. If I can do anything for you, let me know.
MARK C. MAHONEY, The Post-Star of Glens Falls, New York: I got into this job because the ME needed someone to write an occasional Sunday editorial. It just clicked with me, and I just kept doing it. I love this job because it totally fits all of my talents and interests, and I get a lot of control over the process--from writing to layout. The part I don't like is some of the crap I have to take from people in the community--the price you pay for stirring the pot, I guess. I also hate, as you may have just read on this listserv, editing letters to the editor. But all in all, this is a great job to have.
MICHAEL RYAN, The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia: I've been doing it since 1991. It's addictive. Best work out there if you have to work. I started doing a column while covering the courts because my old college newspaper adviser saw me at a party and reminded me how much I enjoyed writing columns. That got the attention of the editorial department, and the rest is history. It's like the Supreme Court. They have to carry you out in a box. No one leaves this kind of job.
KIM BRADFORD, The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington: In 1999, when I became an editorial writer, I had reservations about leaving straight news. I had never wanted to become an editorial writer, and I had no sense for what the craft entailed. My publisher, who desperately needed someone to fill the spot, promised me I could return to the newsroom if I didn't like editorial writing. But from day one, I never looked back. I love getting to cover the waterfront rather than just a beat, and I love trying to put news in perspective for readers. If I can ever be of any assistance, don't hesitate to drop me a line. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Or, several hundred!)
MARY MOGAN EDWARDS, The Columbus Dispatch: Hi there. I'm intrigued by your inquiry, because I've been in my job, writing editorials for the Columbus Dispatch, for almost two years and I don't have much of a clue of the ed-writer world beyond our four walls. Are you getting much response? I get the NCEW listserv, too (obviously), but only read a bit of it. When everybody gets going on a particular topic, it gets pretty repetitive, so I generally just check when I see a new subject line. (Or when my boss posts, of course.)
MATT NEISTEIN, The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin: I love the creativity and thought the job takes, and I like advancing debates through our letters. Nothing beats a phone call where I can help someone out. By the same token, however, when someone calls to tell me we're wrong or that I'm biased because I didn't print his or her letter, that stuff drags. But it's part of the job.
KAREN FRANCISCO, The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Indiana: I've been an NCEW member for almost six years now, not quite as long as my editorial writing tenure. It began at a much smaller paper in Muncie, Indiana, in the early '90s, interrupted by a four-year return to the news side. I'm convinced that editorial writing is the best job in the business (although our outdoors editor seems to have a great gig). I'm fortunate to work for a locally owned newspaper, which makes it especially enjoyable.
PAUL NEVILLE, The Register-Guard of Eugene, Oregon: I'm an avid whitewater kayaker, an activity which has earned me some notoriety in NCEW since the night I tried to demonstrate how to roll a kayak while leaning against a wall during a convention cocktail hour. J.R. Labbe and Bob Davis will never let me live it down. Anyway, that's a quick snapshot of one NCEW member. Welcome aboard.
TOM HENDERSON, The Lewiston Tribune of Lewiston, Idaho: I feel ill-used if I have to stay until 5:15. This is the first job I've had where I'm valued for what I can do rather than my willingness to work my butt off. Editorial writing is the best job on the planet--if you have a thick skin. I've gotten three nasty letters and two irate phone calls this morning. Such reactions mean you're doing your job, but it would be nice to go an entire day without being compared to a maggot. Still, it beats working.
SHEILA MULLOWNEY, The Newport Daily News, Newport, Rhode Island: It's fun to be able to express an opinion on something every day, which is completely opposite from my reporting (and copy editing) days. What I hate about it is having to express an opinion about something every day! Sometimes that's hard, with everything else that comes with my job. And I also can't stand people who can't separate what happens in the news pages with what happens on the opinion page ("You're biased!" Really? Did you not see the word at the top of the page?) In any event, I have found the NCEW listserv to be a valuable resource, in terms of ideas to "borrow," and in terms of what our job entails.
Kay Semion, immediate past president of NCEW, is associate editorial page editor of The Daytona Beach News-Journal. She used the Internet to research this article. Her e-mail is kay. firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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