Magazine article Editor & Publisher

No Editorials? A Heresy That Works for Us

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

No Editorials? A Heresy That Works for Us

Article excerpt

Our community newpapers have been free of editorials for seveml years now, and it works!

For many newspaper traditionalists, this is pure heresy. "A newspaper without editorials is no newspaper at all," they say.

Because the no-editorials idea is so radical, Independent Newspapers Inc. approached it with considerable caution. We started phasing out editorials somewhat tentatively. But it felt "right," and has evolved into a heartfelt policy. Some of our editors at first only tolerated the policy. Now, many of these same editors embrace it with enthusiasm.

While I at first thought the no-editorial policy might only be appropriate for smaller community newspapers, I now believe ati newspapers should consider it.

Most of independent's newspapers serve small communities. They don't have the luxury of a separate staff for editorials. Before we went "on the wagon," our editorials were often written by the same people who covered the stories. The editor might cover the town council meeting, write the news stories and then proceed to voice his or her opinions about what the council has done wrong.

This represented an inherent conflict of interest, and one that we believed was undermining the newspaper's reputation for purposeful neutrality. When everybody in town knew the editor's stance on issues, how could they trust our coverage of those same issues? (Traditional journalists like to believe readers make the distinction, but the evidence suggests that most do not. Could this have more to do with public distrust of the press than most traditional journalists would like to admit?)

At Independent Newspapers, our mission is to publish purposeful newspapers that encourage and support mean ingful community involvement, and that provide citizens with the knowledge they need to make rational decisions about public issues. A mission like that doesn't leave a lot of room for jamming our opinions down people's throats, does it?

Dropping editorials has allowed us to turn our opinion pages into a vigorous forum for community discussion of public issues. One of our discoveries may amaze hardcore editorialists: Our readers don't need us to tell them what to think! Our opinion pages help readers learn from one another, in a process that allows them to progress from knee-jerk opinion to mature judgment about public issues.

To fill the editorial void, we reached out to our communities. We encouraged more letters to the editors. We established a telephone call-in line that has opened our pages to segments of the community which often had felt excluded and powerless. We recruit guest commentaries ftom people who have special expertise on the issues being discussed. Our readers are exposed to a much broader spectrum of opinions than they were previously.

Our editors, freed of the burden of being partisan participants in the community's discussions, can instead act as proactive but evenhanded facilitators, thus helping to elevate the quality of the community's discussion of public issues.

We've also been able to put more effort into improved coverage of public issues. We try to provide understanding of key issues, not just reporting the latest events. And we try to put events in context for our readers, again with the goal of providing citizens with the knowledge they need to make their own decisions. …

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