Editor: News, opinion must be separate

The New York Times editorial page editor says she strives to balance the page's content

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 21, 2006

Gail Collins has the potential to reach millions of people every day through the pages of The New York Times.

But yesterday she spoke directly to about 15 Penn students in a much more intimate setting.

Collins -- the editorial page editor of the Times -- described the tools she uses to put together the paper's opinion section at noon at the Kelly Writers House.

English professor Dick Polman introduced Collins as "the most influential woman in American journalism."

Having held her current position since June 2001, Collins described the Times as a "typical paper that does everything it can to keep opinion separate from the news operation."

At the same time, she acknowledged the ties between opinion and news, which she said are the basis for everything published on the editorial page.

She added that the Times' editorial page "strives to be as fair as possible" in presenting both sides of all issues by publishing "interesting voices who give a wide variety of opinions."

"As proud as I am of the editorial page, I would shut the thing down in a second if it would do anything to protect the news core. [The paper] all exists for the news," she said.

Describing the historical development of the editorial page, Collins said that the early papers in America were purely editorial and did not contain any news.

It wasn't until the Civil War, when "people actually cared about the news and what was going on in the war," that objective reporting suddenly gained importance, she said.

In the 20th century, when newspapers became more popular, advertising replaced actual purchases of the paper as the main source of revenue. Collins said that newspapers worked on developing objective news, forcing opinions to editorial pages.

Addressing aspiring journalists in the crowd, Collins said the key to success is enjoying the subject matter.

"Journalism is a difficult career, but if you're writing about what you love, you've succeeded already," Collins said.

Elizabeth Slavitt, a College sophomore who said she is interested in journalism, called the event an "exciting opportunity to hear from someone who has so much experience and has succeeded" in her career.

Polman organized the event as part of a series of guest speakers for his class on advanced journalistic writing.

The event was partly financed by the Annenberg School of Communication.