'New York Times' Op-Ed Page Turns 40
DAVID GREENE, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm David Greene.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Forty years ago, American journalism changed. The country's most important newspaper added a page. And on its 40th anniversary, that page is being celebrated by that paper, the New York Times.
It is the op-ed page - now, properly, the op-ed section - and joining us to talk about this is David Shipley, op-ed page editor of the New York Times. Welcome to the program.
Mr. DAVID SHIPLEY (Op-ed Page Editor, New York Times): Thank you so much for having me.
SIEGEL: And first, this always surprises people. What does op-ed stand for?
Mr. SHIPLEY: It stands for opposite editorial because when the page first came into being, it was right across the page from the paper's own editorials.
There are few places as valuable as that space opposite the editorial pages. So one of the things that's really worth celebrating this year is not just that the Times decided to open its pages to outside voices, but that it decided to put those voices in such a prominent spot.
SIEGEL: But not to belittle the first point: Before the op-ed page, when you read opinion, when you read acknowledged opinion in the New York Times, it was the editorials, or it was the New York Times columnists, period.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Yes.
SIEGEL: And with the op-ed page, the paper invited all sorts of other voices into that.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Yeah, which isn't surprising at the time. I mean, the page was the brainchild of John Oakes, who was the editorial page editor at the time, and Harrison Salisbury, who was the noted foreign correspondent.
You know, late '60s, early '70s - tremendous, vibrant discussion in America and around the world. So it's not surprising that they thought, well, maybe we should open our pages to some of this debate.
SIEGEL: Okay, 40 years is a long time. What do you think were the Times op-ed pages' greatest hits?
Mr. SHIPLEY: Oh, boy. You know, this past summer, my colleagues and I spent the summer pretty much putting together this special section that will come out on Sunday the 26th. Gem after gem after gem - some wildly insane stuff.
There was an early dialogue that Harrison Salisbury ran, between a man who wrote in sort of bemoaning the effects of women's lib because he suddenly had to do a tremendous amount of housework - and then his son wrote two weeks later, saying that his dad was completely wrong and actually a lazy guy, and the piece was an utter fabrication.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SHIPLEY: So there is stuff like that. At the same time, you have Ronald Reagan in 1970, writing about welfare. You have really, a remarkable piece by Jimmy Carter that was published two days after Nixon left office, that essentially presages his campaign because it was all about government openness.
So you have stuff like that throughout the years, leading up to Joe Wilson's essay about searching for uranium in Niger, that we published a couple of years ago.
SIEGEL: Which involved his wife, Valerie Plame, and led to her being outed as a CIA agent.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Correct.
SIEGEL: As you said, what was very important about this page was its location in the paper. Nowadays, the Internet unpacks, un-makes-up - whatever the opposite of make up the paper is - the newspaper, and disassembles it. How does the page fare in an age when it isn't assembled in one place?
Mr. SHIPLEY: That's such an excellent question because if you read the early years of op-ed, the page is incredibly loud. It is...
Mr. SHIPLEY: Loud. There is parody. There is satire. There is full-throated argument in the way that you just wouldn't see today. And I think in some measure, you have that because the world was so much quieter then. Loudness really stood out.
People often ask me, you know, why isn't the page louder today? And I feel in some way that what we can offer is a quieter space for considered discussion because lord knows, there's a tremendous amount of loudness out there right now. And the quiet space, combined with all being in one place, Robert, I think is one of the things that we can offer.
SIEGEL: What you're reminding - or what you're telling some young people for the first time is, in 1970, there was a perceived shortage of opinion in the media.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Yes.
SIEGEL: Quite different from today, when it's one thing we're not short on.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Absolutely. There is less of a need for the page to provide the instant analysis that you find everywhere else right now.
SIEGEL: Well, David Shipley, thank you very much for talking with us, and happy anniversary.
Mr. SHIPLEY: Thank you so much for having me.
SIEGEL: David Shipley is the op-ed page editor of the New York Times. The page is 40 years old today, and the paper will have a special section about that on Sunday.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.