Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's ombudsman, today takes on the challenging question of what do women want - um, does the WaPo's language turn off women?
Just the other night, I was reading the chapter in Gail Collins's When Everything Changed about the 1970s revisions to newspaper stylebooks relating to language to be used when describing women. Alexander's column is remarkably similar. So it's been thirty (forty?) years now, and the WaPo still hasn't caught up to its own stylebook?
Perhaps the problem goes beyond mere words. How many times has the WaPo's lineup of columnists been scrutinized for the presence of women? Or the subject matter. Today we have a rich mix of old men urging the rest of us to get off their lawns. I count at least three: David Broder, David Ignatius, and the president of the American Enterprise Institute. Robert Bennett's op-ed is borderline informative. (Note to WaPo editors: the president of AEI saying that his version of free enterprise is best and morally superior is not news, certainly not worth lots more words than the usual op-ed.)
Or perhaps the purpose of having all those old white men opine was to ingratiate the Post and AEI with the Tea Partiers, although the demographics of that movement hardly recommend it as a way to increase circulation.
Over the years I've been blogging, the occasional female editor has surfaced at the Post to claim an openness to female opinion. When they've posted an e-mail address, I've responded and gotten various brushoffs. It's entirely possible that my style or competence isn't up to Post standards, but it's hard to believe that I was the only one responding.
So the "next greatest columnist" turns out to be a male with connections to the Washington establishment and not very original opinions. Another recent addition is a male with a strong love of torture but not much in the way of substantive experience.
Consider that absence of substance. Burton Richter, who knows something about science, was eliminated early from that competition, and perhaps it is my leaning toward that subject that eliminated me. A woman writing about science? Isn't there something about dogs standing on their hind legs? Or we might consider Olivia Judson's excellent columns at the New York Times.
Gail Collins is a Times columnist, too. This is not to say that the Times has everything right in this area, just that the Post seems hopelessly male in its lack of women columnists.
That lack of substance is a problem, too. Maybe smart readers are getting tired of the "get off my lawn" columns. Maybe they are tired of Republican speechwriters. Maybe they would like to read some real news.
And at least half of those smart readers are women.
Update: Also, too.