New York Times Columnists

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNISTS….Matt Yglesias points out today that probably no one has ever turned down an offer from the New York Times to write a twice-weekly column, but that perhaps more people should. The standard 800-word format, he says, is hard to pull off.

That’s true. Like Matt, I write more than 800 words a day, let alone twice a week, but a regular column that had to be 800 words ?5% every single time would be pretty intimidating. It’s a format that takes some practice, and some people never get it.

What really strikes me as peculiar about all this is not the length requirement, which is standard for both typographical reasons and because daily newspaper readers are not really disposed to reading longer pieces, but the fact that the Times hires columnists who have never done it before. David Brooks is the subject of Matt’s post, but Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman are other examples of writers who had no experience of the weekly 800-word routine before the Times hired them.

So why do they do it? The Times can hire anyone they want, so why don’t they scour the country for columnists at second tier papers and hire one of them instead? Someone who has proven that they have a real knack for the 800-word routine?

And while we’re on the subject, why is it that the LA Times, unlike both the NYT and the Washington Post, has no regular op-ed page columnists? They’ve had them on occasion in the past, but never more than one or two at a time, and none right now. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, just a minor oddity. Maybe Norah Vincent and Arianna Huffington made them swear off the idea.