1. Trish Hall
Mostly, arguing doesn’t work. “That’s one of many tips shared by Trish Hall ’77, former New York Times op-ed editor, in her 2019 book Writing to Persuade: How to Bring People Over to Your Side. More than just a guide to writing opinion, it’s also a guide to the psychology of persuasion. Hall, who started her journalism career as a reporter for the Daily Californian, says she is curious about so much that she has failed to become an expert in any one thing. It might be a blessing in disguise—as the Times op-ed editor for nearly five years, Hall had to read as many as 1,000 submissions every week on every topic under the sun and from writers as varied as Angelina Jolie and Vladimir Putin. Her bottomline advice to aspiring op-ed writers: Think of something original to say, or find a new way to tell an old story.
2. Jennifer Rubin
In 2015, Donald Trump tweeted about Jennifer Rubin ’83, J.D. ’86, referring to her as a “highly untalented Wash Post blogger” and “a real dummy.” In response, Rubin remarked, “I do have to say the low IQ bit never came up during my three years at Berkeley law school, where I finished first in my class.” After graduation, Rubin practiced law for Hollywood studios for nearly 20 years. She says her legal experience armed her with the ability to gather facts, interview people, and shape an argument. Rubin joined the Washington Post in 2010 as a conservative columnist opining on politics and policy, foreign and domestic. She likes to think she’s commenting on the right, not defending it, which makes her different from conservative voices who toe the party line.
3. Sonia Nazario
Nicknamed “La Granuja”—the troublemaker—Sonia Nazario, M.A. ’88 is not afraid of taking risks to find stories or speak out against injustice. While working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Nazario once rode atop a moving freight train for 16 hours as it crossed Mexico. The trip was the source material for her series, “Enrique’s Journey,” about a Honduran boy’s life-risking odyssey to find his mother in the U.S. The work won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003 and was turned into a best-selling book of the same name in 2006. These days Nazario is a vocal advocate for the human rights of immigrants. And, since 2014, she has been a frequent contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages.
4. Michelle Goldberg
Writing in the New York Times last year, Michelle Goldberg, M.J. ’98 recalled her least favorite professor at Berkeley, a “notorious hard-ass who ran his seminar like a boot camp.” Goldberg hated him, but later realized what a valuable experience it had been. “That class forced me to quickly get over whatever hesitation I had about hitting up sources for quotes or pitching editors.” When she first joined the Times as one of three new op-ed columnists in 2017, a newsroom memo announcing her hire said she saw “no contradiction between having fierce convictions and keeping an open mind.” Upon taking the columnist gig, Goldberg told the Huffington Post she hoped to be “a voice for people who cannot believe what the fuck is going on.”
5. Jerelle Kraus
There was a time when the art that ran on the New York Times op-ed page faced ridiculously strict censorship, as Jerelle Kraus, M.A. ’69, former art director for the Gray Lady’s op-ed section, readily attests. As Kraus recalled, an illustration of an ice-covered thermometer was once killed for looking like an ejaculation. Another one, of Henry Kissinger tattooed with his war crimes, was rejected for an excessive display of midsection flesh. Kraus tried to protect her illustrators during her 13 years at the helm. She was fired twice from the position and, after quitting the job for good, she published her book All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t) in 2009. The jacket image on the book’s second edition is of Secretary Kissinger, tattooed and fully naked.