The “soul” of the weekly newspaper should be the “Opinion Page”. As I look at weekly papers and on-line sites, I find that opinion pages are becoming weaker and softer.
Instead of writing challenging editorials, many editors are writing their personal opinions in their columns.
Personal columns, however, are not a good substitute for an editorial that analyzes a topic, takes a position and urges an action.
Editors understandably fail to write a weekly editorial because they don’t have the time, since an editorial needs to be researched and written fairly.
I found during my 25 years that I developed an antenna for an editorial as I covered the city council, school board and chamber of commerce meetings.
Some weekly editors contend that writing editorials about beats they cover is a conflict of interest. They believe that sources from that beat might wonder if they can report news objectively when they’re writing an opinion about it.
Strange, of all the years I wrote editorials about issues on beats I covered, I rarely had someone question the objectivity of my reporting for that reason.
Community leaders expect their newspaper to publish editorials. Other than daily exchanges at the coffee shops, who else compiles an unofficial opinion about an important topic?
Let’s face it. Our local newspaper is the most powerful when it comments on local issues.
Once I was convinced of the need for a new library, redesigning a deadly intersection and the need to pass a school tax levy, I was relentless.
I’d write about that issue, which would provoke letters to the editor, until the leadership couldn’t stand it. They either had to refute my editorial or take some action.
An editorial doesn’t always have to be controversial. Editors can use it to praise a council action, to commend a council member or to welcome a new member to the planning commission.
Challenge your staff to write an opinion about something on their beat, edit it for clarity and run it.
Guest columns work well, particularly if you ask someone in the community to write on a hot topic. For example, if the police department is under fire for solving too few crimes, ask the police chief to respond.
Letters to the Editor are highly read, according to surveys I’ve read. Try to highlight your best one in leading off your letters-to-the-editor section.
Publish a photo with the letter when either you have one of the writer, or a file photo of the topic.
During these days of economic upheaval and upcoming change, readers both on-line and in print are looking for help and they need to express themselves.
They also expect to hear from their leadership on how the community can respond to emerging problems.
This is the time for ideas and opinions to be published in a lively newspaper opinion section, anchored by a good editorial.
(Don Heinzman edited weekly newspapers for 25 years and has written a manual with tips for weekly editors. Contact him on-line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)