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June 3, 2021, 10:49 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The Washington Post opinion section is leaning into local with “Voices Across America”

Voices Across America is looking for writers who can write about where they live with sufficient authority to be credible to their neighbors, but with sufficient altitude to be compelling to readers anywhere.

Fans of The Washington Post’s opinion section will get to experience a wider range of viewpoints starting this month. On June 1, the Post announced the launch of Voices Across America, a platform within the current opinion section for “on-the-ground viewpoints and local angles on national issues.”

Voices Across America will feature pieces from contributing columnists like Lizette Alvarez in Miami, Florida; Kate Cohen in Albany, New York; Fernanda Santos in Phoenix, Arizona; and Bill Whalen in Palo Alto, California. The opinion section is also looking for contributing writers and new columnists.

Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Post, said Voices Across America is one of a few ways the Post has tried to reach new audiences and gain new writers. The section gets at least 100 op-ed submissions a day and the team reads each one. Last year, the opinion section conducted a racial and gender diversity audit of its writers and found that it “should be doing better,” Hiatt said. The Post declined to provide more information on the audit and said it’s made diversity a focus in hiring and finding outside voices.

In 2016, The Post launched its Global Opinions section to reach readers with interests outside of the United States. It went a step further in 2019 when it launched “Post Opinión,” a Spanish-language section that publishes original and translated op-eds. In December 2019, it launched the Spanish-language news podcast “El Washington Post” with twice-weekly episodes.

Publications — both national and local — are experimenting with how to reinvent their opinion pages and make them more relevant to readers. This past March, McClatchy announced it would add community advisory boards to each opinion team. At The New York Times, editor Kathleen Kingsbury cut publishing volume by 25 to 30%. (At the Times, some change was inspired following the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who called for the government to “send in the troops” to quash Black Lives Matter protests.)

In the past, the Post has found that subscribers consume opinion writing more than non-subscribers. The topics of opinion pieces that most often lead readers to subscribe are politics, race and reckoning, and coronavirus coverage, as well as exclusive guest pieces.

“We have always been totally committed to a diversity of viewpoints in our opinion writers, our regular columnists, and in our contributors,” Hiatt said. “We intend to have people writing from red states and blue states, about red states and blue states, so that things that are happening in different parts of the country won’t come as a surprise to folks who are living in Washington or Hollywood if we’re doing our job right.”

For Voices Across America, Hiatt wants to find writers who can write about where they live with sufficient authority to be credible to their neighbors and with “sufficient altitude” to be compelling to readers anywhere.

“We want writers in these places to be writing about any subject, not just their region,” Hiatt said, “but from a point of view that reflects where they live, so that we’re not just reading about politics from Washington, or immigration or deindustrialization or Covid or any other topic from the inside-the-Beltway perspective.”

On Friday, the Post will announce an opinion-based podcast called “Please, Go On” to give writers more space to discuss the issues they’ve written about, in a booming medium. The first episode will premiere next week on June 11.

The podcast will be hosted by James Hohmann, an opinion columnist for The Post who was previously a national political correspondent and the voice behind the morning news briefing, The Big Idea podcast.

“We publish a lot of op-eds that make a lot of news that people talk about and are really interested in, and often they want to know how it came about or why we published that or why did that writer want to speak at this particular moment,” Hiatt said. “It’s partly this thing that we all want to do which is demystify what we do, make ourselves more transparent, and invite readers and listeners who are interested into the process.”

Each week, Hohmann and the guest will delve into the week’s most compelling column. Writers are often governed by a word count but they always have more to say. The podcast will let them elaborate and allow The Post to bring listeners and readers into the conversation.

“James is going to be talking to people with varying points of view. He’s going to be pressing them to explain themselves and to go deeper, and in some cases, he’s going to be challenging them,” Hiatt said. “It will be a model of the kind of debate and discussion that we need more of and that I think a lot of people are hungry for.”

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

POSTED     June 3, 2021, 10:49 a.m.
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