My View: Pay for opinions from women of color
Imagine you have five children. Every night, your family gathers around the dinner table. Every night, you ask three of your kids: How was your day, honey? What went well? What was hard? Tell me what you think. Tell me how you feel. I want to know.
Every once in a while — when it occurs to you — you invite the fourth child to weigh in.
The fifth child, though, somehow you never quite make it around to her. If she had something to add worth hearing, surely she'd pipe up. …
Women of color comprise about 20 percent of the U.S. population, but you'd never know it from reading our country's editorial pages. Eighty-five percent of the opinions we hear and read in the media come from men, according to the Op-Ed Project. And U.S. editorial boards and editorial columnists remain overwhelmingly male and white.
Some of the country's most illustrious newspapers, in some of the nation's most racially diverse cities, still don't have a woman of color columnist on their opinion staff. Yes, I'm looking at you, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune.
Our American family deserves more. We can do better.
In order to flip the dominant white male paradigm on the opinion page, we should be flooding the pipeline with diversity. Yet no one gets hired as a columnist without a suitcase of published opinions behind her — and too few women of color are actively invited by newspapers and media companies to take a first step.
I'm a lucky exception. Over a year ago, an editor at the Portland Tribune reached out to me. He'd read an opinion piece I'd written for another publication and invited me to submit something. I did, he liked it, and my op-ed was published, highlighting the courage of a sexual assault survivor working to change her college's response to cases like hers.
Over the next 16 months, the same editor kept circling back and, thanks to those check-ins, I ended up writing three more columns. Through his steady encouragement, thousands of area readers had access to something strikingly absent in this city, this state and this country: A woman of color's voice on the opinion page.
If we could clone this individual editor, America's op-ed landscape might quickly be transformed. Absent that option, there is another way of increasing the number of opinions written by women of color: Pay for them.
Normally newspapers and news websites — especially smaller papers and smaller websites — don't pay guest opinion writers. It may seem counterintuitive that they should start doing so when newsrooms everywhere are being cut to the bone, but diversifying the opinion page could make good business sense over time. Many people have abandoned traditional media because we're hungry for other perspectives, other insights, other voices. Paying women of color even a nominal amount per guest column could have a significant impact on submissions and published pieces.
The inevitable question then arises: Well, how is that fair? The short answer is, it's not. Newspapers and other media outlets would be choosing to compensate one particular group of contributors and not others.
It also isn't fair that women make up 50.5 percent of the U.S. population while men enjoy 62 percent of media bylines. Or that for every dollar a white man earns, a white women is paid 77 cents, a black woman gets 64 cents, a Hispanic woman 56 cents. In order to level the overall playing field, we need to get creative in how we first build a team.
Increasingly, media outlets are telling women of color: "We value your opinions." If that's true, those same media outlets should start actively soliciting our opinions — and paying for them.
Angela Uherbelau, a Northeast Portland writer, serves on the board of Emerge Oregon, which trains Democratic women to run for office. Read more of her writing at angelauherbelau.contently.com; learn more about efforts to diversify opinion pages at: amplifywoc.com.