Op Ed’s 40th Birthday

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The Op Ed Page, cornerstone of The New York Times opinion package, celebrated its 40th birthday on September 21. This milestone was heralded in Sunday’s paper with a beautifully edited and designed retrospective stand-alone section (art directed by Aviva Michaelov), a fresh new web page design and a short documentary video, “Forty Years of Op Ed Art,” on which I collaborated as writer and narrator with producers/editors Michaelov and Gabriel Johnson.

On September 21, 1970, The New York Times premiered a new section its editors called The Op Ed or “Opposite Editorial” page. The title implied both its physical location and editorial position. Entirely devoted to commentary by columnists and non-Times writers as well, it was a page without editorial precedent, and its unique artwork by a repertory of politically savvy illustrators and cartoonists made it even more distinctive. For the “grey lady” to cede prime editorial real estate over to artwork – especially satiric illustrations – forever changed the way that The New York Times and other American newspapers used used illustrators on their pages for decades after. Here is the Times’ announcement on that historic day:

“As the world has grown smaller, the nation more powerful, the problems besetting man infinitely more complex, the pressure more intense, the health of this democracy has increasingly depended on deeper public understanding of difficult issues. Through the new page opposite the Editorial Page that we inaugurate today, we hope that a contribution may be made towards stimulating new though and provoking new discussion on public problems. All of The Times’s regular Editorial Page columnists will appear with their usual frequency on the new page, but they will be joined by two or more outside contributors sic days a week, writing on the widest possible range of subject matter and expressing the widest possible variety of opinion.

The purpose of the Op. Ed. Page is neither to reinforce nor to counterbalance The Times’s own editorial position, which will continue to be presented as usual in these columns. The objective is rather to afford greater opportunity for exploration of issues and presentation of new insights and new ideas by writers and thinkers who have no institutional connection with The Times and whose views will very frequently be completely divergent from out own. In this respect, the Op. Ed. Page is in fact a logical outgrowth of the “Topics” column that has appeared on this page each Saturday for the past few years.

In furtherance of our belief that the diverse voices of our society must be given the greatest possible opportunity to be heard, we are at the same time approximately doubling the weekday space devoted to letters from our readers. The two pages together-Editorial and Op-Ed are designed to create and intellectual forum from which, to paraphrase Terence, nothing will be foreign that relates to man and his society.”

For more on the Op Ed go here and read some of the stories in the anniversary section (cover illustration by Christoph Neimann, bottom). And for more personal commentary on the art and artists read Jerelle Kraus’ 2008 book, All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t): Inside The New York Times Op-Ed Page.

And, if you missed Saturday Evening’s DH Post about famous and infamous kisses, go here for a little smooch.