Published on April 26, 2014
Changing face of editorial page
Readers can agree or disagree with editor’s views - and do all the time. This brings one of the chief functions - to provoke thought, debate and action for the common good and to get policy-makers, stakeholders and others with an interest engaged in the process we all know as democracy. Of course, one of the options in a democracy is inaction or disengagement. Much of editor’s job is about getting folks to reject this option, to persuade them to be interested. Disinterest, in our view, is not healthy in a democracy.
Editorials reflect the consensus view of the Editorial Board, a seven- member body that includes the publisher and editor. The discussion points to a consensus and the writer assigned the topic writes that for the board. If one doesn’t think he has enough facts to make a decision, editor can ask the writer to do some more reporting and come back with a recommendation. In any case, an editorial is not about any individual writer's opinion. It is the consensus opinion of a board with members who have some healthy diversity of viewpoint. No news staffers participate.
Editorial pages are not just about editorials, they offer a variety of columns, many of them locally written but also including syndicated columnists. The world is changing for newspapers. The Web presents challenges but also offers up more eyeballs for our news and our views. In the end, however, we apply the same standards on what we write online as to what we write for print.
Editorial independence is one of the area which has led the editorial policies to take a different route, Editorial independence is the freedom of editors t o make decisions without interference from the owners of a publication. Editorial independence is tested, for instance, if a newspaper runs articles that may be unpopular with its advertising clientele. But editorials do take sides.
A newspaper praises the selection of the new city council president as the best person to lead the community through the year’s challenges. An editorial looks skeptical upon the school district’s choice to close and reconfigure school buildings as detrimental to student and family interests. An editor’s commentary applauds the compromise reached by all stakeholders on the proposal to develop valuable riverfront property in the downtown. Closer examination reveals the editorials appeared after the fact – in some instances following weeks or months of the newspaper detailing community debate. Newspapers as a clearinghouse for information have an opportunity to be at the forefront of – to lead the conversation on – important community decision-making. In short, editorials should not be an afterthought. The role of editorials – in fact, the dynamics of the entire editorial page – should be an integral part of newsroom planning.
In larger organizations, newsrooms may regularly meet to brainstorm coverage. In small organizations, setting an editorial calendar is a fluid and informal process. However the decisions are made, an editorial calendar serves two purposes. First, it provides an opportunity to consider fresh angles for coverage of events that occur year after year. Second, newsrooms are better prepared to handle the unexpected issues and events that surface.
Absent from planning in many newsrooms, however, is the role of the editorial page. As a result, many newspapers fall short on writing editorials on local issues. The pushback from many editors is to be expected and understandable: “I don’t have the time,” or “I can’t think of anything to write about.” That’s why this discussion is broader than just about writing editorials on local topics. The conversation and planning should encompass the entire editorial page including reader participation from letters to guest commentaries.
Developing editorial ideas is often the greatest challenge. Then it’s a matter of researching the issue. Once you know where you’re going, the words may come rather easily. Incorporating an editorial page into everyday news coverage is also a chance to issue a “call to action” to readers. For example, consider the school district that is proposing to close neighborhood schools. Here are some possible calls to action: Encourage letters to the editor: The issues will likely prompt strong emotions from those both for and against the school realignment. Ask readers to be specific in their arguments and in their recommendations to guide the district through its financial challenges.
Elevate prominence of reader comments. Compile relevant and appropriate comments from online readers and present them in a broader context – basically turning reader comments into a story. This supplements the regular news coverage and provides a nod to readers who don’t often receive enough recognition for their willingness to provide their opinions. Engaging the editorial page in everyday coverage is a natural extension for those newspapers that aggressively pursue the news. In the end, editorials can provide additional interpretation and be the springboard for a lively exchange of ideas among readers.