Magazine article The Masthead

Why We Dropped Signed Editorials

Magazine article The Masthead

Why We Dropped Signed Editorials

Article excerpt

As a child of the Fifties, I roamed a semi-rural neighborhood where many households kept some kind of livestock. On summer days, my pals and I ran in packs, accompanied by our dogs, forewarned by parents that no dog that tasted a neighbor's chicken could be trusted to run free again. Once a chicken-killer, always a chicken-killer.

That memory nagged me a year and a half ago as I was making plans to end the practice of signing editorials in The Spokesman-Review. For almost a decade we had been feeding the blood lust of readers who hungered to know who, specifically, wrote which editorial. Anonymous editorials were an ongoing point of criticism, and yielding to that criticism had earned us cheers. What would happen when we took that morsel back? Snarling e-mail? Howling phone messages?

Still, the publisher, the editor, and I were in agreement. We wanted to restore a more traditional approach in which the newspaper's editorials were its official voice.

The byline phase had been part of a needed effort to draw back the curtain and give readers a clearer view of us and our work. It also was meant to let writers express themselves without having their individualism ground up in the maw of a committee process.

They were expected to reflect the editorial board's thinking, though, and the byline noted they were writing "for the editorial board."

Even so, many editorials soon took on the flavor of personal columns, and that's how letter writers addressed them. On a few occasions, editorials published within a relatively confined timeframe produced conspicuous contradictions.

What I wanted was an energetic editorial board that would engage issues with vigor, its members challenging each other, probing for weaknesses, punching holes and then patching them. That kind of parentage yields editorial offspring with a mongrel's DNA; no one person is responsible or accountable. …

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