Wick Communications

Invite opinions to the paper

In Opinion pages on November 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I found something cool in the Montrose Daily Press the other day. Editor Mike Easterling and Publisher Francis Wick have been running notice about a new feature they hope to run on the newspaper’s opinion page. You can see it above.

The newspaper has gotten with key decision-makers around town and asked if they would be willing to answer questions from readers. It’s a great idea, isn’t it?

Of course, any such initiative will have it’s management challenges. Mike and Francis will have to keep those questions coming. If emails, letters and calls don’t come, Mike may have to go looking for some. I don’t know why you couldn’t ask the guy eating lunch at the next table if he had a question for the local elected officials. I don’t think that violates the spirit of the enterprise. The folks at the Daily Press will have to make sure the city fathers answer the questions promptly too.

The Daily Press has a long history of really interesting, engaging opinion pages. Remember this one? A really good local opinion page doesn’t just happen. And it doesn’t happen nearly enough. You have to plan for them and sometimes you have to solicit columns and other stuff to fill up the page.

Some random thoughts about good and bad opinion pages follow …

I hate syndicated columns. In our papers, they are nothing more than placeholders. I know, I know. You want to tell me about the little old lady down the street who only buys the paper to read Cal Thomas, and that may be so. But I suggest to you there aren’t nearly enough of those readers to justify the practice. Find local people to weigh in with unique content on local affairs and you will give readers a reason to spend their spare change on your newspaper.

I love photos. For some reason, there isn’t much art on newspaper opinion pages. I don’t know why that is. If you have a column on a new paving project, run a photo with it. Run column sigs with local columnists whenever possible.

Local is always better. I guess it’s OK if local readers want to use your space to weigh in on health care or the president or drone strikes in Pakistan, but I don’t think that really serves your mission, which should be setting the agenda in your area.

Don’t be afraid to set limits. I would have a rough word count for letters to the editor. We use 300 and don’t stress about a writer who goes, say, 10 percent over that. If they want to write 400 words or more, we call it a “Matter of Opinion.” We get a mug shot and then we have something special for the page. I very rarely let writers go on beyond 700 words. At some point, even their own mothers won’t read it.

Be opinionated, but be fair. Don’t be timid. Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Also let the other side speak. Over time, even the readers who don’t agree with you will understand you use your bully pulpit fairly.

I am passionate about our opinion pages because they are distinct to us. They are key to our unique value proposition and they are a chance to do what good newspapers always do: define the challenges of the day and offer solutions to those challenges.

Clay

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