Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why do conservative columnists dominate the newspaper op-ed pages in most the country?

Kevn Drum notes that they do, in a “dog bites man” blog post about an in-depth survey of newspaper commentary over at Media Matters.

I offer my observations from someone with a slice of life inside the industry, at least right now.

I’ve worked at one small daily, and a variety of non-dailies, for about 13 years. Aside from the “name” columnists at “name” syndicates, you have a variety of smaller syndicates putting out B-side/AAA minor league columnists.

These, even more than at the Major League level, tend to tilt small town/Chamber of Commerce/down on the farm right; a fair subset of them tilt religious right, also.

In other words, if you think the situation is skewed at your typical seven-day daily, you ain’t seen nothing.

Then, amongst freebie columnists, you have some conservative think tanks, plus state chapters of conservative organizations, floating their columns everywhere.

For instance, I, at a weekly paper of about 4,500-5,000 circulation, get columns every week from folks like the Conservative Values Coalition and Texas chapters of several national coalitions. I’d estimate I get six-seven a week like this.

Then, there are organizations that are officially apolitical, such as the Texas Medical Association, but that may take conservative positions on issues near and dear to their hearts, such as national healthcare, in this case.

Also, Senators and many Representatives send “their” columns out every week; of course, they’re all staff-written, not by the MCs themselves. But, my off-the-cuff guess is that conservative Congressmen reinforced conservative newspapers here in a sort of closed feedback loop.

The solutions? Well, given that liberals are generally more idealistic, and thus interested in editorial positions, speaking up on an op-ed page wherever possible is a start. Liberal public policy groups, etc. churning out more op-eds would also help. And professional groups that have a more liberal take on issues, like state trial lawyers’ groups on tort reform, have done some writing in the past, but need to be joined by others.

Take labor issues; if someone from the AFL-CIO would crank out some well-crafted op-eds on a variety of labor matters, and pitch them with a smaller-town angle, it would be water in the desert.

Given that smaller-town newspaper readership is not declining as much as at seven-day dailies, this is a fertile field.