Mapping the Ideological Divide

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By: Dave Astor

Starts and sales of columns by conservatives haven’t risen much as the country’s political mood turned rightward after Sept. 11. One reason is that, even before then, conservative columnists already outnumbered and outsold liberal ones.

At the eight biggest syndicates, there are roughly 35 conservative versus 30 liberal columnists — in addition to several dozen moderate or hard-to-categorize writers.

When it comes to sales, the most widely syndicated Op-Ed writers include conservatives Cal Thomas of Tribune Media Services (TMS), with 540 papers, and George Will of the Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG), with 400-plus — 20 to 30 more papers than run the most popular liberal commentator, WPWG’s Ellen Goodman.

One reason for more right-leaning columnists is that Creators Syndicate — the firm with the biggest Op-Ed roster (more than 35) — has twice as many conservatives (12) as liberals (6). Creators President Rick Newcombe said this is partly a result of buying Heritage Features Syndicate a decade ago, “which gave me 15 conservatives in one fell swoop” — some of whom are no longer around.

Newcombe added that conservative columns often sell well because “newspaper editors are interested in what readers want.” He said evidence of a big audience for right-leaning opinion includes the Fox News Channel’s growth, the popularity of mostly conservative talk radio, and high sales of books by conservative authors.

And, while George W. Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, Newcombe said the president won more counties than the former vice president. These Bush-supporting locales tend to be midsize and small markets where a majority of the nation’s dailies (and column buyers) are based.

“Conservative columnists are a bit more popular,” agreed Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of WPWG, which has four liberal, three conservative, and eight moderate or hard-to-pigeonhole Op-Ed columnists. He said one reason why conservatives tend to sell better is that conservative publishers, especially at smaller papers, often influence editorial-page editors’ column buys.

This makes some Op-Ed pages more conservative than many of their actual or potential readers. And there are more conservative columnists on the far right than liberal ones on the far left. Then again, there are more liberal political cartoonists on Op-Ed pages.

Something For Everyone

But the bottom line for big syndicates is that they’re in the business of satisfying as many clients as possible. So they offer columns with various ideologies.

“We need to and do represent all points of view,” said United Media Executive Director of Public Relations Mary Anne Grimes. United columnists include two liberals, two liberal-moderates, one moderate, and five conservatives.

“We try for a good balance of different philosophies,” added Copley News Service Editorial Director Glenda Winders.

The TMS ad in E&P‘s 2001 syndicate directory lists eight conservative, three moderate, and eight liberal opinion columnists. TMS Creative Director Fred Schecker said this symmetry is coincidental, but noted that TMS’ Op-Ed lineup (which partly includes columns from the old Los Angeles Times Syndicate) is large enough to offer something for everyone.

Universal Press Syndicate’s ad for the this summer’s 2002 directory will also ideologically group Op-Ed columns, with two liberals, two moderates, three conservatives, and others in categories such as “analysis,” according to Director of Communications Kathie Kerr. As with TMS, Universal’s balanced lineup “just evolved that way,” said Executive Vice President and Editor Lee Salem.

King Features Syndicate Managing Editor Glenn Mott said King’s nine Op-Ed columnists includes one conservative, one liberal, and seven others harder to categorize. For instance, a conservative may take liberal stands on certain issues.

Several executives did note that syndicates might categorize a column’s ideology to make it easier to sell, even if the column can’t always be categorized editorially.

The New York Times Syndicate’s five Op-Ed writers lean progressive, though New York Times columnists with the New York Times News Service include conservative William Safire.

Most syndicates said that when they consider a new columnist, ideology usually isn’t the main criterion. “We look for quality of writing and clarity of voice,” said Mott.

“We don’t sit around saying, ‘Gosh, we need another liberal or conservative,'” added Shearer. “We look for the best writers with a journalism background.”

But, because of the need for diversity, some syndicates do look for minority and/or female writers of various ideologies.


‘Plain Dealer’ Overhauls Comics


‘Cathy’ and ‘Shoe’ Among Strips Dropped

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland overhauled a whopping 25% or so of its comics lineup, adding nine features and dropping 10 — including perennials such as “Cathy,” “Shoe,” and “Dennis the Menace.”

“Some of the comics have been around for a long time and were getting tired. And there’s so much new material,” said Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton, who noted that this was the paper’s first major funnies restructuring since 1989.

Most changes were based on the results of a recent Plain Dealer survey that drew more than 10,000 responses. But some comics that did poorly in the reader poll were kept because the paper wants a mix of comics that appeal to various demographics and interests, according to Assistant Managing Editor/Features Elizabeth McIntyre.

Top finishers in the survey included “Crankshaft” and “For Better or For Worse.”

The nine comics added were “Get Fuzzy,” “Agnes,” “Rhymes With Orange,” “Cornered,” “Cleats,” “Frazz,” “Rudy Park,” “PreTeena,” and “Flo & Friends.”

Those canceled — in addition to “Cathy,” “Dennis,” and “Shoe” — included “Sylvia,” “Close to Home,” “Ask Shagg,” “Magic Eye,” “Slylock Fox,” “Judge Parker,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

The pulling of the last two drew the most reader protests, but the response wasn’t large enough for The Plain Dealer to reinstate them. The paper did bring back the kid-oriented “Mini Page” after discontinuing it in December.


TMS Closing Two Offices


Both Handle Sales For LATSI

Tribune Media Services (TMS) is closing Los Angeles Times Syndicate International’s New York and Salt Lake City offices, affecting the jobs of 10 full-time and two part-time employees.

The move continues the consolidation of TMS and Los Angeles Times Syndicate functions since TMS acquired LATS in 2000. Domestic syndication is being consolidated in Chicago and international syndication in Los Angeles.

The New York office (with seven full-time staffers and one part-time employee) is scheduled to close June 1 and the Salt Lake City office (with three full-timers and one part-timer) Aug. 31. Both were mostly sales operations occupying rented space.

One sales representative will transfer from New York to Los Angeles, and some of the other New York and Salt Lake City employees may also be offered jobs in Los Angeles.


Fake Genius Did Column


Paradigm Distributed Feature

The widely reported story about a mother who faked test results to make her son look like a genius has a syndication angle.

“We were duped like everyone else,” said a man declining to give his name at Paradigm News, which launched a column by then-six-year-old Justin Chapman in 2000.

Justin’s mother Elizabeth admitted fabricating most of her son’s achievements, including a 298 IQ, said the Associated Press.

Present and past Paradigm officials couldn’t or wouldn’t say how long Chapman’s column ran, how many clients it had, or how much of it the boy wrote.

To see the last 10 “Syndicate World” columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Astor” in the “Author” field.

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