Magazine article The Masthead

Never Forget the Paper's Own DNA: Get to Know Your Paper's Personality

Magazine article The Masthead

Never Forget the Paper's Own DNA: Get to Know Your Paper's Personality

Article excerpt

Readers, at least the ones who also listen to talk radio, deeply and sincerely believe that everything we do is driven by ideology. Some think that every morning the red phones on the editor's desk ring, ready to transmit instructions from the Kremlin. Or Crawford, Texas. Depends on what kind of paranoid they are.

Actually, there is another factor that restrains--and constrains--us far more than any limitations inherent in whatever it is the true believers are believing this season. Woe betide the editorial writer who fails to intuit the personality of his or her newspaper. This does not mean the publisher's personality, although the publisher probably believes it does. It does not mean the latest talking points from some political party.

Every newspaper over time has established itself within its readers. It is welcomed into the homes of its readers and they feel comfortable with it, comfortable enough to have established a habit fully as deep as any addict develops, if the newspaper is doing its job. This does not mean that all newspapers have the same bland personality, although there are editors who would like that to be the case.

The first paper I wrote editorials for was a big city tabloid, the Philadelphia Daily News. I had not a clue about how editorials should be written, but there was the tradition of the great Reuben Maury at the Daily News in New York to fall back on. So I wrote short and fast and hard. That was in keeping with the way the newspaper fancied itself in its sports and news sections, The paper wasted no time. It had the facts but was frequently smart-ass about what they meant. A story, as the managing editor frequently explained, that went beyond 2 1/2 takes would have to include the return of Christ or a World Series victory for the Phillies.

So nobody complained when the language of the editorials roughly paralleled that of the readers. …

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