‘Opinion in a Pinch’: St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor explains use of freelance editorialists

Letters to Romenesko
From LOREN WASSELL: Today’s lead (only) editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, like several others recently, bears a footnote:

(This editorial was commissioned from freelance editorialists and edited by the Post-Dispatch editorial board.)

Are other papers also outsourcing their institutional voice? I know freelance and advocacy op-eds are common, but not (in my experience) main page editorials.

I asked the Lee Enterprises-owned Post-Dispatch about the outsourced editorials and got this response from deputy editorial page editor KEVIN HORRIGAN:

Since [former editorial page editor] Tony [Messenger] became metro columnist here in early September, we’ve been using two editorials each week from “Opinion in a Pinch.” That’s a service created by Christian Trejbal and Miriam Pepper for papers that find themselves short of editorial page help. Chris formerly worked for the Bulletin of Bend, Oregon. Miriam was editorial page editor of the Kansas City Star. Like Tony, both were/are active in the Association of Opinion Journalists. There may be others who work with Chris and Miriam, but so far, they’re the only writers who have written for us./CONTINUES

I tell them what subject I want discussed, and in general, what tone and direction I want to take. We still bear full faith and allegiance to Joseph Pulitzer’s Platform. They file within 48 hours. I then edit them – heavily in some cases if events have been overtaken by news – and publish them as “Our view.” Essentially I treat their work the same way I treat that of Deborah Peterson. She and I are the only writers on the editorial page. We share a page designer and a copy/letters editor with the newsroom. That’s a staff of four-ish. When I joined the page in 2000, there were 12 or 13 in the department and ran two or three editorials most days. Now most days it’s one. Sic transit gloria mundi.

When this process started, I wondered how the pieces should be signed. We are a conventional “By the Editorial Board” paper. But Chris and Miriam aren’t members of that board, nor do we kick ideas around with them the way we do between ourselves. Still their work is commissioned, in subject and tone and direction, and says what I want it to say. It’s not a “guest editorial,” something we get from the wire. So I split the difference and came up with the admittedly awkward italicized explainer that you asked about.

How long will we do this? I don’t know. We’re currently in the process of looking for an editorial page editor to succeed Tony. He or she will have to be able to write three editorials a week (unless someone is on vacation, when it could be more) plus do the adminstrative work. When one of the three of us is on vacation, maybe we’ll need Opinion in a Pinch again.

It’s not a good solution, but it is what it is and their work is solid. I don’t ask Chris and Miriam to write about local topics; if part of what they write needs to be localized, I do it.

* Read what my Facebook friends/subscribers say about freelance editorials