Raising Women's Voices

The Op-Ed Project

By Paige P. Parvin 96G

On New Year’s Day, the cover of the Sunday New York Times featured a photo of holiday revelers in Times Square—women and men of all shapes, sizes, and colors, most smiling and holding up their cell phones to capture the festive passage of another year.

Inside the paper on its op-ed pages, however, that diverse jumble of faces gave way to a decidedly more homogeneous group: men. On the first day of 2012, opinion pieces in the “Old Gray Lady” written by men outnumbered those written by women by more than three to one. And that, according to an organization called the OpEd Project, is typical: in 2010, 80 percent of op-eds in the Times were by men.

The OpEd Project is a nonprofit created to expand the range of voices that influence the public through key opinion forums, with a particular emphasis on increasing the number of women contributors. Founder Katie Orenstein estimates that across the country’s leading newspapers, TV talk shows, and online media outlets, 85 percent of the voices shaping the national conversation are men—and of those, most are white, Western, and wealthy.

WNN Op-Ed Booklet

The OpEd Project is working to change that number in 2012 and the years that follow, partly through workshops like the one conducted here in January in partnership with the CWE. More than 70 Emory women faculty, senior administrators, and graduate students applied to participate in the workshop, and 20 were selected, according to Assistant Director Sasha Smith.

One of those was Dorothy Brown, a professor in the School of Law, who studies the impact of tax law. “My research, which looks at the race and class implications of federal tax policy, shows that the richest Americans (who are generally white) are the beneficiaries of our tax laws while the rest of us—both middle class and poor, white, black, Latino, and Asian—consistently get the short end of the stick,” Brown wrote in her application. “This message is timely, and the OpEd Project can help me make the transition from an academic who speaks to very few readers to a public intellectual whose audience is much broader.”

The two-day workshop, led by Orenstein, was designed to do just that—help participants engage in public scholarship by teaching them how to craft op-ed pieces and place them in major media outlets. Participants also have access for one year to the OpEd Project’s mentor-editors, many of whom are Pulitzer Prize winners.

WNN Op-Ed Working Groups

The OpEd Project workshop is followed by a series of related offerings spearheaded by the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence and cosponsored by the CWE. On February 29, Emory media relations experts Nancy Seideman and Elaine Justice led “Pitching and Placing Your Op-Ed,” a workshop created to give academic scholars practical advice and tips for writing compelling opinion pieces and effectively pitching them to targeted outlets. The broader goals of the session reflect those of the OpEd Project—to foster thoughtful, diverse public discourse by increasing the number of women faculty voices in the public sphere.

“Women are under-represented in the op-ed pages for the same reasons they have been under-represented historically in most segments of the news media,” says Justice, associate director of media relations at Emory. “A study completed last year by the International Women’s Media Foundation showed that men occupy the vast majority of the management jobs and news-gathering positions in most nations, including the United States. I believe that the lack of women in media management positions has a direct impact on the number of women who are recognized as thought leaders and given a voice in op-ed pages.” 

According to the OpEd Project, women also don’t submit op-eds at anywhere near the same rate as men, so encouraging women to put their ideas forward in the public realm is also key to moving the needle.

As the news media continue to evolve and expand—encompassing citizen blogs, online reader commentary, increasingly polarized TV networks, and a ravenous, 24/7 news cycle that is endangering print and straining journalistic ethics—it is more important than ever to nurture the tradition of intelligent opinion writing, Justice says. “Op-eds are an opportunity to showcase an informed and well-researched argument, to offer constructive solutions to current problems, and to serve as a catalyst for public dialogue that leads to positive change,” Justice says. “And although there are many more ‘opinions’ proliferating in journalism than ever before, op-eds still claim an important role in shaping the debate on many of the most vital current issues.”

Click here for more information about the Public Scholarship series. 

Paige P. Parvin 96G is the editor of Emory Magazine and a member of the CWE Editorial Advisory Board.