Following recent talk about the lack of women who contribute to op-ed pages, Minnesota Public Radio Commentary Editor Eric Ringham did a byline count of MPR’s commentaries. Ringham found that from April 2010 to April 2011, MPR’s commentaries featured female bylines 39 percent of the time. (See how this compares to other news sites.) Nearly two-thirds of the women who contributed commentaries during that time were sources from the Public Insight Network.
In an unpublished piece about his findings, Ringham referred to a related Poynter.org story that said women often refrain from contributing to op-ed pages because of a lack of confidence or fear of bragging. “It’s a familiar pattern, and it doesn’t affect only women,” Ringham wrote. “Anybody who feels left out of the conversation pool has to summon up some guts to dive in.
Here’s an excerpt from Ringham’s piece, which the Public Insight Network’s Linda Fantin shared with me:
“As a newspaper op-ed editor for 27 years, at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, I spent a considerable amount of time trying gently to persuade people that they had something valuable to contribute. ‘I’m no expert,’ they’d protest. I would reply, ‘You’re the world’s best expert on your own point of view.’ Sometimes I succeeded; often, I didn’t.
“It’s easier, now that I’ve got a new job and access to a huge network of potential contributors. These days I edit commentaries for Minnesota Public Radio News, which in 2003 created the Public Insight Network. It’s a pipeline through which people can share their insights with journalists — and in the process discover their own expertise and voice. …
“In my op-ed editor’s heart I care about the PIN for one reason: It’s full of people who are already expressing themselves on topics they know about. What I do is a little like teaching a child to ride a bike: At the right moment, you take your hands off the handlebars and yell, ‘Look! You’re doing it!’ The trick is to catch them in the act: When they are writing simply to communicate, and not with the goal of being published. That’s when they can learn how easy it is.”