Hearing From the Other Half

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 2:34 PM EDT

CJR's Erika Fry tallies up the op-ed contributions to the New York Times last month:

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.

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.

I'm not sure what to think of this. On the one hand: yes, it would be nice to hear from actual people with actual lives a little more often. On the other hand: I have to admit that I'm skeptical that the blogs of America are full of working class diamonds in the rough who would expand our visions if only we had a chance to read them. These folks get interviewed on the local news with some frequency, and most of the time they're not especially enlightening. The truth is that writing even minimally interesting op-eds is harder than it sounds.  

But yes, I'm elitist scum. And technocratic elitist scum at that, more interested in bloodless charts and statistics than I am in actual human blood, sweat, and toil. Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm not joking, either: I really am more interested in what the big-picture evidence says than I am in eavesdropping on the kitchen table conversation of middle-class families.

Still, it would be an interesting experiment. Every day for a month, let's insist that Andy Rosenthal dig up and run a submission from someone who's literally a working stiff and has absolutely no other credentials. Let 'em tell us what's bugging them, whether it's the owner of a dry cleaning shop complaining about onerous regulations, a truck driver tired of long hours, or a waitress who wishes her customers weren't such assholes. Whatever. I'd have pretty low expectations for this experiment, which means it wouldn't be hard to impress me. So come on, Rosenthal, give it a try.

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