Adding to the political discussion

There’s some sentiment among newspaper owners that their publications should not be in the business of writing opinions. They say it messes with the idea of journalistic impartiality if the paper (and of course, website) not only covers an issue, but offers its opinion.

That argument can be made (and sometimes made by members of the public as well) but it seems from here that its made without a real understanding of the separation of a newspaper’s editorial function and its reporting. Whether those two are separated by floors in a large newsroom or by a mental walling off in a smaller one, they are kept separate.

At the Mail Tribune, we have an editorial board that decides our positions on issues. It’s a small enough newsroom that the two editors on the board (myself and opinion page editor Gary Nelson) certainly have contact with reporters and even their stories. But it’s a matter of principal and practice that our editorial positions are not carried over into whatever contact we have with stories on the same subject.

Election time is challenging for the editorial board, with lots of meetings with candidates as well as proponents and opponents of measures. We do things a bit differently than some in the candidate races by inviting all candidates to the same meeting, which can set up a mini-debate when there are differences of opinion.

Why should people care about our editorial stances? I’d say because we’ve had a chance to sit down with the participants and see not only how they answer questions, but how they handle themselves in the process.

We don’t fool ourselves into thinking our editorials change vast swaths of votes. But they provide more information on issues that often can be a bit opaque to readers. Whether people read our editorials and decide they agree or decide they disagree, at least they’ve added more information in their decision-making process. And that’s a good thing.

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