New York Times Opinion section doubles in size

The New York Times has doubled its opinion staff to more than 150 people since 2017, adding new departments for audio and graphics and bolstering its editing and fact-checking resources.

Why is this important: Opinion and its focus on multimedia projects are among the best retention vehicles for The Times subscription, said Kathleen Kingsbury, Opinion Editor of The Times.

  • But it has also been the subject of some of the Times’ most public dramas.

By the numbers: Kingsbury, who joined the Opinion Desk in 2017, said the department had lagged the newsroom for years in terms of digital innovation. But new efforts to invest in graphics, audio, video and Op-Docs have made the Opinion section more relevant in the digital age.

  • The Times now has 35 people working on Audio Opinion, up from one person at the start of 2020, per Kingsbury.
  • There are three opinion podcasts, including “Sway” by Kara Swisher, “The Ezra Klein Show” and “The Argument” with Jane Coaston. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, formerly of NPR, will anchor a new Opinion podcast later this year.
  • There has been a more conscious effort to build media products around Opinion, particularly with the aim of building subscription engagement. Last August, the Times made more than seven of its more than 20 opinion pieces available only to subscribers.
  • The Times won its first ever Oscar last month for a pov documentary titled ‘The Queen of Basketball’. He had been nominated for four other Oscars.

Be smart: The past two years have not been without challenges for the Times Opinion team, but these moments have ultimately strengthened the department, Kingsbury said.

  • Specifically, the saga surrounding the resignation of former Opinion editor James Bennet over Tom Cotton’s now infamous op-ed prompted The Times to further address diversity among its opinion staff.
  • The Times recently announced that veteran correspondent Lydia Polgreen would return to The Times as a opinion columnist. Sociologist and cultural critic Tressie McMillan Cottom was also hired as an opinion columnist.
  • Today, The Times has two full-time black columnists and seven full-time columnists in total, including Polgreen and McMillan Cottom, up from zero and three, respectively, before 2021. The Times’ opinion leadership team, made up of 10 people, includes six women of color.
  • The Bennet saga has also forced the Times to think more critically about workflow and editorial infrastructure, which includes fact-checking and copy-editing, Kingsbury said.
  • While Sarah Palin’s recent libel suit involved an op-ed that predated Kingsbury’s time at The Times, the result, she noted, was a major victory for the First Amendment.

Between the lines: The Bennet situation, combined with the drama around Bari Weiss’ public resignation, has highlighted a culture of distrust among staff.

  • Kingsbury said the Times’ new editorial policy on social media brings the newsroom closer to the Opinion section’s policies on social media, which are separate from those of the newsroom. These policies have long required that Opinion staff not comment on the work of their colleagues on Twitter.

The big picture: The Times’ opinion push comes as it seeks to further reorient its business around subscriptions.

  • “There’s no denying that our columnists keep our readers loyal,” Kingsbury said. “It’s a tool for us to create retention.”

Yes, but: It should be noted that while the Opinion section of The Times has matured, its newsroom has seen much more attention, growth, and resources in recent years. About 1,700 journalists work at the Times in total.

And after: Along with new investments in multimedia projects, Kingsbury said the department will focus more on issues outside of its core policy and foreign policy to delve into topics such as mental health and addiction, culture, technology, freedom of expression and the future of democracy.