Monday, August 22, 2005

We, The Editorial Board...

One of Tracy Warner's readers takes him to task for not having an opinion -- a cardinal sin for bloggers. On a post about a 1982 murder, Jane comments:
Is there an opinion in here somewhere, or am I missing the point of an editorial page editor having a blog?
Then another reader, Dave, comes to Tracy's defense...kind of:
Jane, I think the point is that he can comment on whatever he feels like outside the limits of newsprint[...]
Jane responds:

Dave,

I'm glad to read your opinion, but I'd still like to read Tracy's.

Then Tracy weighs in:
Jane's comments about the lack of opinion in this post are fair. This is one of the rare times I really haven't reached an informed position. One of my goals with the blog is to offer information specific to the northeast Indiana and surrounding area that people might not otherwise see; this was a BIG story when it happened, and I thought some of the people who read my blog would be interested.
Jane again:
I appreciate the mission you've given yourself, but I wasn't in this area back then. So that's one of those stories for which a bare recitation of the facts isn't enough for me. I also seek perspective. Thanks for the pointer, but if you do reach an informed postion, I'd like to hear it.
In reading some of the responses from the FWMN Reader Survey (which you can still take), I've noticed how many readers, like Jane, are looking for my opinion and commentary on things as opposed to just noting certain stories without including my take. I'm going to be making a concerted effort to do just that, but I've noticed that Tracy and his counterpart, Leo Morris, have a harder time spouting off what they think, perhaps because they're so used to taking their time making up their mind and "crafting" an editorial for the next day's paper.

Then there's the notion of an "informed position," a term which is so amorphous and subjective that any good editor ought to ban it from use. (It's also a sly way of implying a superior argument without actually making one.)

Often your first impression is more valuable than your "pondered" one, and far less pretentious as well. That's not to say that you always stick with your kneejerk reaction, but I think unless you discover some new information or fact that throws a kink in your thesis (or someone else makes a convincing argument against you), there's no reason not to go with your initial reaction. After all, it's much less likely to be influenced by the opinions of others, though we all know that never happens to an editorialist...

In fact, I think we'd all be better served if they didn't take their editorials so seriously that they come off as pronouncements ("We've thought a lot about this and here is what we've decided") instead of as the beginning of a discussion (an opening argument, perhaps?) in the community.

If I'm an editorial page editor, I don't want my readers to read my editorials and automatically adopt it as their position on the issue in lieu of thinking about it for themselves -- and I bet that most editorial page editors would tell you that they don't want that, either. But then why are they writing editorials that sound like proclamations from the editorial board?

That's not to say that I'm in favor of "uninformed" decisions, either -- goodness knows there are plenty of those floating around, especially on the Internet. But let's not treat editorial writing like it's as serious as carving the Ten Commandments into stone, and let's not be so afraid to be wrong that we have to endure a 24-hour waiting period to render an opinion.

After all -- especially for a blogger -- that's about 23 hours too long.



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