US opinion columnists: An old boys' club

New York Times columnists Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman at a White House forum on December 3, 2009.
Image caption Ten of the 12 New York Times columnists are men, including Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman

What's wrong with high-profile columnists in the US? According to Sarah Hedgecock at Gawker, they're a bunch of old men.

Ms Hedgecock puts together a handy chart breaking down the columnists at three of the largest US newspapers - the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal - as well as the four largest newspaper syndicates, which sell columns to hundreds of newspapers around the country.

What she found is that the average and median age of the 143 writers surveyed is around 60 years, and 26% are women. There's only one woman under 35 in this group: Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, who writes primarily about popular culture.

After looking at the data, Ms Hedgecock concludes: "Newspaper columnists are, statistically speaking, old dudes. This is unsurprising, since columns are usually bestowed on the tried, true and grizzled. But if you're staffing your back pages with almost all veterans, you're missing out on a wide swath of important perspectives."

Blogger Stowe Boyd writes that this may be more a reflection of the death of traditional newspapers, whose readership is trending older: "Gawker is apparently surprised that the old-school newspapers - the ones still printing on paper, for crying out loud - have old people writing on their op-ed pages. Big surprise."

Dylan Byers, the (not old, but definitely male) media columnist for Politico notes:

I'd just add that the older columnists get, the more redundant they become. Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Paul Krugman - their columns tend to be variations on familiar themes. Compare that to a younger talent like Ross Douthat (age 34), who has emerged as the most dynamic voice on the Times' editorial page, and an increasingly influential player in moderate conservative thought. Fortunately for readers, there's the Internet, which has significantly broadened the playing field."

Ah, yes. Thank you, internet, where anyone with a computer and a good idea can start writing and develop a following. And maybe, if you're really lucky, you can get paid for your efforts (notes this 41-year-old, male writer).