Bringing back the Op-Ed page, sort of…

A random NYT Op-Ed page: Monday, April 12, 1993.

A random NYT Op-Ed page: Monday, April 12, 1993.

I don’t know whether you saw this mentioned anywhere, but the original op-ed page just died.

The other day, the current editorial page of The New York Times announced that the paper was retiring the term. There will no longer be an “op-ed page” at the Gray Lady. You may not see why this is a big deal. Op-ed pages have disappeared all over the place. The State hasn’t had one in years. In fact, The State no longer has a true “editorial page” for an op-ed page to be “op” to.

But the NYT invented the modern op-ed page, and the first one ran on Sept. 21, 1970. Of course, since five years was a long time back then, by the time I graduated J school in 1975, such pages seemed an old establishment, and every real newspaper had to have one.

A word about the term. A lot of people don’t understand it. The Times EPE explains:

It was so named because it appeared opposite the editorial page and not (as many still believe) because it would offer views contrary to the paper’s. Inevitably, it would do that, too, since its founders were putting out a welcome mat for ideas and arguments from many points on the political, social and cultural spectrums from outside the walls of The Times — to stimulate thought and provoke discussion of public problems…

Some people, I have noticed, even misunderstand it to mean “opinion-editorial” and particularly got confused when we used the term “op-ed” to refer to an individual piece that appeared on the page. As in, “I wrote an opinion-editorial for The Daily Bugle.” Well no, I’ve explained many times. You didn’t write an “editorial” of any kind. That’s impossible, since you’re not a member of the editorial board, and you weren’t expressing the official position of the newspaper. What you wrote was a guest column for the op-ed page.

This always produced an effect: A blank, uncomprehending stare. Well, I knew what I meant, and the distinction mattered to me. But life goes on.

Anyway, I mourn the loss of the “op-ed page” at the Times, even though I think the reasoning is sound. As the editor said:

In the digital world, in which millions of Times readers absorb the paper’s journalism online, there is no geographical “Op-Ed,” just as there is no geographical “Ed” for Op-Ed to be opposite to. It is a relic of an older age and an older print newspaper design…

Anyway, all that aside, I’m today reviving the concept, at least symbolically. And I’m starting with Paul DeMarco.

Some of you blog old-timers may remember Paul. He’s a physician who lives in Marion. He was one of our more thoughtful, civil commenters in the early days — the wild days when I had no civility code, never barred or deleted anything, and the unruly rambles would go on and on, hundreds of comments a day.

Paul stood out in that jostling crowd. So I was sorry to see him sort of drift away from the blog, and by the time I ran into him at a campaign event in 2018, I almost didn’t recognize him with his hat on (see below). Of course, I was so harried in those last days of the election that I was doing well to recognize anyone.

Anyway, a few days Paul wrote to me with an idea. He’d been thinking about writing guest columns for the Florence paper. And he wanted to see if I’d be interested in running some of his pieces on the blog. He sent me a sample piece, which you will see appear on the blog a few minutes after this explanation does.

I thought about it for a moment, and said sure, let’s give it a try. This was uncharacteristic of me — I’m always turning away unsolicited offers of copy by saying, “I write my own stuff.” I did this for a couple of reasons: I don’t post myself as often as I’d like these days, so this can supplement what I do offer. (Although it’s not a substitute for my own copy, as I think you’ll clearly see when I comment disagreeing with Paul’s positions.)

But I also made some caveats clear to Paul, including:

  • This is not a commitment on my part. I’m not going to run everything you send me. Even with Cindi and Warren and the other full-time, paid writers at the paper, I didn’t run everything they wrote. I didn’t run all of Robert’s cartoons. This used to confuse some people, I’m sure, but sometimes I would reach out and ask someone in the outside world to write something for us (for free) and submit it, but I would always add, “not that I’m promising to run it. I have to see how it turns out first.” An editor must always reserve the right to say “no.”
  • I’m going to edit you. Respectfully, and not capriciously. I’ll just make routine changes for style and clarity (I won’t bother to discuss replacing “over” with “more than”), and when I think you’re making an unclear, illogical or inaccurate point, I’ll discuss it with you, and it will be up to you whether to make that more substantive change.
  • I need some pictures to go with it. Which as you will see, Paul was happy to go out and shoot.

So we’re proceeding, with those rules — necessary rules on an “op-ed page” — in place.

And we’ll see how it goes.

Now, the obvious question: Will I run others on this “page?” Perhaps, now that we have this precedent. But no, I haven’t opened the gates to anyone who wants his or her own posts. I approved this plan because Paul is a good guy and I think it will be good to have him back, and he made a good pitch. So we’ll see how it goes.

I hope y’all enjoy it….

The last time I ran into Paul Demarco -- at a campaign barbecue in Florence,

The last time I ran into Paul DeMarco — at a campaign barbecue in Florence, Oct. 30, 2018.

 

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