A Matter of Opinion  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   August/September 2012

A Matter of Opinion   

Longtime opinions editor Allison Silver takes her act from Politico to Reuters.Tues., November 6, 2012

By Gabby Siskind
Gabby Siskind (gsiskind3@gmail.com) is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.     


You get the sense that James Ledbetter, opinions editor at Reuters, is quite high on his new sidekick.

"There are very few people who have been involved in doing opinion journalism at a very high level for as long as Allison has," says Ledbetter of Allison Silver, Reuters' new executive editor of opinion.

After working as the editor of opinion at Politico for almost three years, Silver made the move to Reuters on October 1 to help expand its opinions operation.

"Reuters is building out their opinions section and is serious about putting out a robust page that is going to be a very big part of the public debate," Silver says. "And I like building an awful lot."

Silver began her journalism career working on the Yale University newspaper, the Yale Daily News. There she helped develop a new section called After Friday, which included upcoming events in the area. After college, Silver went to work at the New York Times, where she found a mentor in Tom Wicker, the well-known Times political columnist.

"Everything I learned about politics was from him," Silver says. "He gave me an incredible amount of respect for what journalism is about and what opinion means."

Silver spent a good chunk of her career running the opinions section at the Los Angeles Times from 1990 to 2000, an experience she found to be very valuable. "Los Angeles was an amazing place to be," she says. "It was a Petri dish of all the issues that back then spread throughout the country race, immigration, city in trauma, riots."

Her time in Los Angeles taught Silver the kind of role opinion journalism could play in the public debate, a topic that has engaged her throughout her career.

"L.A, is a lot like the rest of the country," she says. "Those Western themes were very important to understanding our country. It gave me a better idea of how to see America and continues to influence every piece I am editing."

Silver, who gives her age as "close to 50," prides herself on knowing when it is time to make a change. "I really loved my job at the L.A. Times, and I stayed in it for a really long time because I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I needed to change," she says.

After leaving Los Angeles, Silver became articles editor for the New York Times' Week in Review section from 2000 to 2005. She then spent a year as the politics producer for TV interviewer Charlie Rose. Then came the opportunity to become one of the founding editors of the Washington Independent, an online political site.

"I spent a long time thinking about the way the online conversation was so crucial to the public debate," Silver says. "So when I was offered the job. I had a ready set framework about what you could do online."

After only 10 months, the site had over a million page views, she says. It was at this point that Silver received a job offer from a hot new political Web site cum newspaper called Politico, where she has worked since 2010.

During her time there, Silver ran and built up the opinions section. "I was editing, blasting, tweeting, doing everything to get the pieces out there," she says.

But once again, after almost three years, Silver knew it was time to move on. "By the time I had departed, the opinion section had gotten to a size that was equal to the rest of the site, and I kind of accomplished that," she says.

Silver will be missed at Politico, if a memo to the staff from Editor-in-Chief John Harris announcing her departure is any indication. "Tapping into an extensive network of writers, and pursuing her own eclectic interests, Allison put POLITICO in the middle of many Washington debates in a way that we had not been before, which is what she promised in our discussions upon her arrival three years ago," Harris wrote.

Politico Managing Editor Bill Nichols is temporarily filling in for Silver as the site searches for Silver's successor.

Silver says she will miss her time at the political junkies' bible. "I had an incredible amount of freedom, and that's pretty important to me," she says.

But she's also excited by her new challenge. Reuters has been trying to build up its online presence over the past few years, and Silver says she's looking forward to being part of that.

Ledbetter is also excited to have Silver on the team. "The strategy we're trying to pursue is to make Reuters a world-class provider of thoughtful, original opinion pieces," he says. "We've already started doing that, but Allison helps us extend and increase both volume and presentation of the stuff we're doing."

One thing Silver did at Politico, which she continues to do at Reuters, is bring in columnists and illustrators with whom she has worked with during her career.

"She has a remarkable stable of very talented and experienced, well-known writers," Ledbetter says. "We're not just buying her, it's a whole nest of writers who are loyal to her and turn out great stories for her. There are very few editors out there with that depth of bench."

Bill Schneider, a distinguished senior fellow and resident scholar at the think tank Third Way, has known Silver for 25 years. He has written for her at the L.A. Times, Politico and, now, Reuters.

"I have worked with many different editors, and she is the best," Schneider says. "She is the best editor in the sense that she understands what you're trying to say, and helps you make your argument cleaner and crisper. She is very attentive to her writers."

Silver in no way takes her loyal following for granted. "I do think it says something that they've followed me everywhere," she says. "I think I'm really lucky to be able to continually offer them bigger and better opportunities."

Silver said she believes her writers have remained faithful because she is a sympathetic editor and has respect for what they are saying. "I am very receptive to an idea," she says. "If they have an interesting idea I am always interested about what the answer is."

Although she has only been at Reuters for a short time, Ledbetter said Silver has fit right in. "She jumped right in, publishing things on her own on the first day," he says. "She jumped in with both feet into coordinating live video discussion covering the debate, which was not going to happen without her."

"We're pleased to have her energy and expertise on board."

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