Special Report: More Newspapers Seeking Conservative Op-Ed Content?

By: Shawn Moynihan With a Democratic administration at work in Washington and President Obama's conservative opponents looking to make their voices heard in opposition to many of his policies and proposals, one might assume that could translate into an increased appetite for syndicated content aimed at right-leaning readers.

The truth, it would seem, depends upon whom you ask.

An E&P survey of the major syndicates found not all of them are experiencing a renaissance in conservative content. Sure, columnists catering to the Right are as necessary as those on the Left in achieving balance on the Op-Ed page ? and there are certainly those who are clearly enjoying the opportunity to rail against the White House. But that doesn't mean more papers want the Right stuff.

United Media's NEA Service, the package that includes puzzles, horoscopes, food and humor columns, editorial cartoons, opinion columns and other offerings, recently conducted a survey of its client editors and found those editors wanted more conservative columns, says Lisa Klem Wilson, senior vice president/ general manager of syndicates. An ensuing search yielded Byron York, former White House correspondent for National Review and now chief political correspondent for The Examiner in Washington.

York, Wilson says, is "willing to criticize Republicans when they need to be criticized," and he's one conservative columnist who does the reporting to back up his points. "Editors want someone who's actually providing a thoughtful point of view, someone who's credible," she adds.

At Creators Syndicate, "We're seeing a surge in sales of conservative columnists and editorial cartoons," says National Sales Director Margo Sugrue. "Pretty much anyone who's critical of the Obama administration is in great demand." Creators' bullpen of right-leaning columnists includes Linda Chavez, Thomas Sowell and Ben Shapiro, as well as Bill O'Reilly. "With the glowing coverage in the media of the current administration, conservatives are eager to find an outlet that expresses their point of view," she asserts.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the assessment that conservative content is hot these days. "If it's a trend, I haven't noticed it," says Alan Shearer, executive director and general manager of the Washington Post Writers Group. He tells E&P that people always used to say that if a Democrat were to be elected president, it would make for good business for conservative writers. But as far as a conservative groundswell goes, "I don't really see it in the numbers," he adds.

While right-leaning WPWG columnists like Charles Krauthammer continue to pick up three to five clients a month, Shearer says moderate Kathleen Parker and liberal recent Pulitzer Winner Eugene Robinson can pick up as many as 10 in the same time frame. Columnists who are always growing their client bases, he adds, "are the ones who do the best jobs, no matter what side of the spectrum they're on."

Sue Roush, managing editor at Universal Press Syndicate, says she hasn't seen a rise in conservative-columnist sales: "In our experience here, we haven't seen any increase in demand." Tribune Media Services, home to such right-leaning columnists as Cal Thomas and Paul Greenberg, has also seen no such boost.

However, one thing is certain: In smaller markets, where newspapers are often viewed with more intense ? and vocal ? scrutiny by their readers, striking a balance on the Op-Ed page can be a crucial task.

In 2006, The Bakersfield Californian decided to add more of a conservative voice to its opinion pages, and right- leaning staff columnist Marylee Shrider proved an ideal fit. When Shrider announced in March that she was taking a break for a while, the paper put out an open call to find an equally effective conservative voice: Instead, it ended up with four.

In May, the Californian announced that Ric Llewellyn, Heather Ijames, and conservative talk show radio hosts Ralph Emerson Bailey and Inga Barks would rotate in Shrider's place.

"They'll tell you about the stories they want to see," Editor Mike Jenner, who calls Bakersfield "The reddest [city] in the bluest state," says of his readers. Featuring conservative voices, he says, allows for more unique ideas and perspectives on local issues.

Jenner says his continued goal is to be mindful of both sides of the political fence even when selecting wire copy: "Where we get the most criticism is on the wire stories we run and how we play them. Even going back to the days of Whitewater, I would tell my guys, 'I don't want to be accused of covering up here. Get it in the paper.'"


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