Apr 26, 2022 - Economy & Business

NYT Opinion section doubles in size

Illustration of the word "Opinion" stylized in the New York Times font, with the "O" oversized and overshadowing the other letters.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The New York Times has doubled its Opinion staff to over 150 people since 2017, adding new departments for audio and graphics and beefing up its copy-editing and fact-checking resources.

Why it matters: Opinion and its focus on multimedia projects are among the best retention vehicles for the Times' subscription, said Kathleen Kingsbury, opinion editor of the Times.

  • But it's also been the subject of some of the most public drama at the Times.

By the numbers: Kingsbury, who joined the Opinion Desk in 2017, said the department for years lagged the newsroom in terms of digital innovation. But new efforts to invest in graphics, audio, video and Op-Docs have made the Opinion section more relevant in the digital era.

  • The Times now has 35 people working on Opinion audio, up from one person at the beginning of 2020, per Kingsbury.
  • There are three opinion podcasts, including "Sway" from Kara Swisher, "The Ezra Klein Show" and "The Argument" with Jane Coaston. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, formerly of NPR, will anchor a new Opinion podcast later this year.
  • There's been a more conscious effort to build multimedia products around Opinion, specifically with an eye on building subscription engagement. Last August, the Times made more than seven of its 20+ opinion newsletters available only to subscribers.
  • The Times won its first-ever Oscar last month for an opinion documentary titled "The Queen of Basketball." It had been nominated for four other Academy Awards.

Be smart: The past two years haven't come without challenges for the Times Opinion team, but those moments have ultimately strengthened the department, Kingsbury said.

  • Specifically, the saga around the resignation of former Opinion editor James Bennet around the now infamous Tom Cotton op-ed pushed the Times to further address diversity among its Opinion staff.
  • The Times recently announced that veteran correspondent Lydia Polgreen would return to the Times as an Opinion columnist. Sociologist and cultural critic Tressie McMillan Cottom was also hired as an Opinion columnist.
  • Today, the Times has two full-time black women columnists and seven full-time women columnists total, including Polgreen and McMillan Cottom, up from zero and three, respectively, before 2021. The Times' opinion leadership team of 10 includes six women of color.
  • The Bennet saga also forced the Times to think more critically about workflow and editorial infrastructure, which includes fact-checking and copy editing, Kingsbury said.
  • While the recent Sarah Palin defamation lawsuit addressed an editorial that preceded Kingsbury's time at the Times, the outcome, she noted, was a major victory for the First Amendment.

Between the lines: The Bennet situation, combined with the drama around Bari Weiss' public resignation, highlighted a culture of distrust among staff.

  • Kingsbury said the Times' new editorial policy around social media brings the newsroom closer to the Opinion section's social media policies, which are separate from the newsroom's. Those policies have long required that Opinion staff not comment on the work of their colleagues on Twitter.

The big picture: The Times' opinion push comes as it looks to reorient its business further around subscriptions.

  • "It's undeniable that our columnists create loyalty with our readers," Kingsbury said. "That is a tool for us to create retention."

Yes, but: It's worth noting that while the Times' Opinion section has matured, its newsroom has seen much more attention, growth and resources in the past few years. About 1,700 journalists work at the Times in total.

What's next: Aside from further investment in multimedia projects, Kingsbury said the department will focus more on issues outside of its core politics and foreign policy coverage to go deeper on topics like mental health and addiction, culture, technology, free speech and the future of democracy.

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