Commit to and Plan for Diversity: We've Provided Our Readers a Steady Diet of Diversity; Consequently They Focus More on a Columnist's Point of View. (Diversity of Opinion)

By Lawrence, James F. | The Masthead, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Commit to and Plan for Diversity: We've Provided Our Readers a Steady Diet of Diversity; Consequently They Focus More on a Columnist's Point of View. (Diversity of Opinion)


Lawrence, James F., The Masthead


How to make opinion pages better reflect a diverse readership? Commitment and planning. It really is that simple.

On the opinion pages at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, sticking to that formula has resulted in a culture change. Diversity is an expectation, not just during annual Martin Luther King celebrations or Black History Month in February, but day in and day out.

As editorial page editor the past 10 years, I've made diversity a part of the fabric of our opinion pages. No longer does my phone ring, for instance, when more than one syndicated columnist who happens to be African American or female appears on the same day. I like to think that's because we've provided our readers a steady diet of diversity over the years. Consequently, they focus more on a columnist's point of view.

There also is usually a diverse mix of essayists and letter writers on our op-ed page. And I make a concerted effort daily to touch a broad base of reader interests in our three daily editorials.

Here's what works for me:

EDITORIALS

Editorial writers understand that attention to diversity and issues affecting people of color is a priority -- a top one. They know that they're expected to consider the implication of issues for the broadest range of people. People who might ordinarily be overlooked typically have a voice in our discussions.

Like most newspapers, we want to attract more younger readers. So it's not unusual to see editorials on a regular basis that comment on, say, hip-hop music or young working mothers.

SYNDICATED COLUMNS

I choose columns daily from several wire services and a stable purchased separately. Special buys don't get preferential treatment. I don't schedule certain columnists for certain days; they all must compete for the three slots we offer daily.

As I make the selections, I look for pieces that are topical, of course. But I also think about how that next day's page will look. I want a good mix of race, gender, and subjects. Occasionally, that may mean three women or three columnists of color. A page could consist of Leonard Pitts, Michelle Malkin, and Ruben Navarette. But almost daily, our readers, who are heavily white in our region and 60% minority in the city of Rochester, can expect at least one columnist of color.

I've found that the Progressive Media Project, which specializes in providing minority voices, is a dependable source for diverse viewpoints. Recently I used a piece that was written by a Latina woman involved in a strike by janitors in Boston. …

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