Friday, July 25, 2008

GUEST POST: Girl with Newspaper Column

Today I'm pleased to bring you first time guest poster (and frequent Girl with Pen commenter!) Marjorie Asturias, who encourages all of us women to start getting our voices out on the opinion page. Marjorie is a weekly columnist at the Grand Junction Free Press, and maintains her own blog, Interior Designs, where she dishes out more advice on the writer's life-- so go check it out! --Kristen

Girl with Newspaper Column by Marjorie Asturias

Landing a newspaper column gig isn't easy, but neither is it impossible, and it's about time that more women put themselves out there and make a bid for one of their own.

A few months after moving to Grand Junction, Colorado, where I now live, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Grand Junction Free Press criticizing the slant a reporter had taken on an article about a local woman doing humanitarian work in Africa. The editor wrote within hours letting me know how much he liked my writing and that he hopes that I submit again in the future.

I immediately wrote back and asked him if he would be interested in hiring me on as a columnist. He was and quickly signed me on, warning me that he couldn't pay me for columns, but he did encourage me to submit regular features in addition to columns, as those news-y type pieces are paid.

I'm now a weekly paid columnist and special contributor to the paper, and while the compensation won't buy me any Birkin bags, the assignments have opened up a number of opportunities for me. Yes, I've received my share of hate mail. Yes, I have had my moments where I'm two hours from deadline, and I've yet to write a single word.

On the other hand, I've also had a few of my columns reach a national readership, including one about the loss of Generation X that was picked up and distributed by an online news aggregator. Another column I wrote about Ralph Nader's entry into the 2008 election was linked from the front page of Mr. Nader's site and generated tons of hits from around the world. Not only did I get my own name and work out in the public eye, the Free Press also saw a hefty spike in its own site statistics, garnering valuable publicity for the paper itself.

Writing the column turned out to be much harder and more rewarding than I dreamed it would be. Not only am I faced with a weekly deadline, I'm also dealing with the fact that I'm writing primarily to a conservative, small-town readership.

My columns frequently touch on issues that ignite heated debate in the community: immigration, abortion, gay marriage, and religion and prayer in public institutions. I'm also proudly feminist and have written about mail-order brides, sexism in the 2008 presidential election coverage and why being child-free can be a liberating choice. Since much of the paper's audience receives its news primarily from local sources, I'm offering them a viewpoint rarely found outside of the national media outlets, i.e., that of a minority woman who sees the world through the a lens that is both gendered and “colorized.”

I have my days when I cringe even as I write some of my more potentially controversial piece, or when I get yet another racist or sexist rant in my Inbox. But I've found that the more I write, the more confident I become. Now, although I also occasionally write about “lighter” topics, I find that the columns that make my readers think are the ones that I find most rewarding. To me that's a sign that I'm doing my job. Equally important is that even among the most offensive emails, I often learn something new about the issue that I hadn't considered before.

I strongly encourage women in any community, no matter what the size, to submit their opinion pieces to their local papers. Don't just aim for the big guns like the New York Times. Every media outlet needs to hear our voices. Carol Jenkins recently wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that part of the responsibility for the dearth of women commentators lies not just with the women who aren't submitting, but also with the top-level decision-makers who aren't actively creating op-ed pages that reflect their commitment to diversity.

Let's do our part and make sure that the supply part of the equation is taken care of. The decision-makers won't have any excuse not to publish us.


Unknown said...

Way to go! Marjorie - I love your way with words and can absolutely see the gift you bring to your community by eloquently inviting them to think outside the box. I figure, you're not doing your job if you don't ignite some debate and even at times derision. I love that about newspapers -- especially those small town ones!

Now onto getting you that Birkin Bag!


Marjorie said...

Aw, thanks, Peggie! I appreciate your comment and love seeing your face and name on this blog.

Yeah, I have a Birkin account already set up, my friend. Just a few more years...


Shai Coggins said...

Great guest post, Marjorie. It takes courage to do what you feel is the right thing to do, regardless of how people react. Well done! :-)

DrAdinaNack said...

Congrats on your column and for not shying away from controversial topics. Thanks for encouraging more of us to submit to our local papers -- what's your advice on writing op-eds/getting them published?