Which is to say, older New Yorkers, many of whom appeared to have walked out of an Upper East Side casting call for a Seinfeld episode, and who still read the paper in print. And a younger, savvy bunch who were clearly aiming higher than the comments section of a their favorite blog but were yet to be convinced achieving this goal was worth the investment of, say, graduate school or a Mediabistro writing class.
What the crowd received from the soft-spoken panelists, however, was less an instruction in how to write than a lesson in how the newspaper works. The latter of which will be a revelation to those who make a living on the web.
For instance: every letter to the paper is edited and fact-checked. And yes, as anachronistic as it sounds, people still write letters to the paper (don’t even pretend you, too, wouldn’t get a thrill from seeing your opinion in print!), though Feyer concedes that the number of letters he receives has dropped dramatically since the days before the advent of comments section when the Letters page provided a rare and deeply coveted space for people’s voices.
“Write well, be succinct, include an engaging personal story,” Feyer advised the aspiring letter-writers, noting that whether it makes it to print will have a great deal to do with whether “it fits.” Literally. The paper was narrowed down a few years back and the page lost a column.
Devoted Times readers will no doubt be happy to hear they are well represented by the letter writers, who, Feyer says, “awe” him every day with their intelligence, if not their interest in world affairs, which he says are rarely the subject of letters unless the story the writer is responding to involves U.S. troops.
And as with every other institution in New York, the Letters page has its regulars, and while Feyer isn’t sure who has written the greatest number of letters since he took over the desk over a decade ago—he noted one especially determined 96-year-old man who writes him "almost every day ... it's like calisthenics for some people"—he recently provided a list of his top submitters to The New Yorker for a story, but “hasn’t heard back.”
The secret to making it into the highly regarded and still influential New York Times Op-Ed pages is equally nebulous.
“What I’m trying to do is surprise people,’ said Hall, who also mentioned that she has held pieces for as long as two years waiting for the perfect peg. Yes, two years.
“I’ve run a lot of things that I think are just important to run, because I think people should know it,” said Hall, by way of explaining her we-are-definitely-not-in-Gawkerland anymore philosophy of editing. “If it’s not popular it’s not popular; it actually doesn’t matter that much, because my job is to try to have that mix.”
And fear not conservatives! Both Feyer and Hall were quick to note they “welcome conservative views.”