Introducing the RTD Op-Ed Counter

The Richmond Times-Dispatch is widely perceived as a very conservative newspaper, but defenders of the paper argue that there is significant diversity, including ideological diversity, to be found within the paper’s pages.

The claim that there is some diversity within the RTD is irrefutable. But how much?

That’s a question that lends itself to empirical investigation. As such, this site is going to be keeping a running tab of the op-eds published in the paper Monday-Saturday and all op-ed type pieces in the Sunday commentary section, over at least the next month. Staff editorials are not going to be tracked or included in this “study.”

What we are going to chart with this counter are:

1. The names of the op-ed writers

2. The topic they wrote about

3. The general ideological thrust of their argument: liberal, conservative, or non-partisan. (If there ever is a genuinely radical op-ed, we’ll happily add another category.)

Note carefully here: this categorization depends on the argument being made, not the identity of the author. So I’ve categorized a piece by Charles Krauthammer, a hardline conservative, about the Saddam execution last week as “nonpartisan,” because in my judgment his argument was simply analytical and didn’t have significant partisan content or overtones. Obviously, these categorizations are a matter of judgment and some will be tough calls; that’s why I’m making the data available, so that if anyone feels compelled to question or re-do how I’ve categorized different pieces, they can do so.

4. Whether the piece was essentially analytical, essentially advocacy, or a combination (A&A). Sometimes pieces may fall into other categories, such a commentaries about a single person (i.e. recent pieces on John Edwards and James Brown).

5. The sex and race of the author

6. Whether the author is syndicated, an RTD staffer, or a guest columnist (and if so, their identity or affiliation)

All this is being recorded in an a database file, which will be continuously updated on posted on-line (in Word format) every couple of weeks. Here’s the file recording the first batch of op-eds from 2007, covering from January 2 to January 10.

Some summary statistics so far: of the 35 opinion pieces to appear over that time period, 25 were from syndicated columnists, 5 from RTD staffers, and 5 were from guest columnists. 32 of the contributors were white and 3 African-American; 26 were male and 9 were female.

15 of the 35 pieces advanced or clearly reflected a conservative ideological position; 5 advanced or reflected a liberal position; and 15 were non-partisan in character.

We’ll save the question of whether this constitutes sufficient diversity for another day; this is still a pretty small sample, and it makes sense to collect data for a while longer before attempting any broader assessments.

Published in: on January 10, 2007 at 2:12 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As I always have my calculators in front of me: 57.1% of recent RT-D columns were not classified as “conservative” (by Mr. Thad Williamson).

    Right off the bat, that’s not too bad for balance. Actually better than I would have guessed. And I make the last statement as an ardent (although non- hardline conservative) fan of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

  2. True, though the other way to look at it is that explicitly conservative views outnumber explicitly liberal views 3 to 1, so far, and the counter doesn’t include the staff editorials. But I want to let this go a while longer before drawing any larger conclusions.

  3. thadw said,”the counter doesn’t include the staff editorials.”

    If the counter did include staff editorials, that certainly would tip the balance, wouldn’t it? Overall that is.

    Another interesting venture would be gauging the actual ‘conservative-dness’ (ok, I tried…) OF the staff editorials, and plot this over a course of time. Who knows maybe I’ll do something like that. Somehow I doubt the line would remain perfectly horizontal. Offhand, I’d predict a slight downward trend.

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