This week, the Pew Research Center suggested that newspapers are devoting less space – in print anyway – to editorials and other opinion. The usually reliable Pew Center seems to lean mostly on anecdotal evidence of cuts at several newspapers and the drop in membership at the Association of Opinion Journalists. No one counted the number of editorials or letters or measured the space allotted. I’m not sure that counts as research.
That said, it may be that there is less space in print devoted to opinion. However, I would argue that newspapers and their attendant websites are running much, much more opinion than ever before in the form of online forum posts and comments behind stories. To suggest that professional news organizations are abdicating the responsibility to lead the discussion in their communities is just flat wrong. …
I haven’t done any kind of research into the amount of print space devoted to opinion in the pages of the Half Moon Bay Review over the years, but I would probably concede that it’s down about a third from the days when the newspaper regularly carried two pages of opinion every week. This is a natural response to technological improvements; Few readers are typing letters or printing them out, addressing an envelope, licking a stamp and then waiting a week to see that opinion in the print newspaper. You can email your letter, of course, but now you can have instant gratification by participating in lively discussions on our websites. That’s a good thing.
I confess I am sometimes disappointed by the lack of effort evident on our print editorial pages. More often than not, there is perhaps a half-hearted attempt at an editorial that is more like civic cheerleading than quarterbacking, perhaps a letter from an actual reader and a syndicated column or two.
Today, for example, nine issues of six different Wick papers landed on my desk. Between them I counted three editorials, seven letters to the editor, four local columns and nine syndicated columns that had nothing much to do with the community. Only one included any comment from the newspaper’s website.
I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. You can turn some of that online energy into gold in the newspaper. You can mine your online comments and run the best, most cogent ones in the newspaper. You can package three or four on a single topic, perhaps running them around a photo of the issue at hand. You can write a blog online and include it and resulting comment in the newspaper. Those of you with forums that allow readers to create their own topics are free to use those topics, if they are well-written and sensible, in the print product. I don’t see why you couldn’t post on Facebook to ask readers what they think about some local topic, noting that you will print some, and then do just that.
There is more opinion than ever all around us. It’s Tweeted, televised and targeted. That tells us there is an endless appetite for a moderated community forum both online and in print. Prove the Pew Research Center wrong.