Welcome to the Opinion page
The below column was published previously by one of our editors and hopefully clarifies why we have such a page. The column has also been updated to reflect how our temporary combined newspaper format has affected our ability to publish all our submissions in print. Readers should still be able to read all letter submissions on their local newspaper website.
Welcome to the opinion page.
This page can best be described as "shared use." Here we print opinions authored by local residents or area officials/experts, by staff of this newspaper or Pamplin Media Group, our parent company, which owns dozens of other newspapers in Oregon.
We also print information about our staff as a guide for readers wanting to reach out to us, our policies regarding the opinion page, sometimes an editorial cartoon and occasionally a list of public officials governing our region -- again, as a tool for readers.
There's something about the opinion page that confuses many people, and we can understand why. In newspaper's early days, the roots of things on the opinion page were clearer. The paper's opinion was usually that of the publisher or editor and often operated as a bit of a bully pulpit, trying to influence public opinion. In more recent decades most papers convened an editorial board to compose an opinion reached by consensus, and while this often had a decided point to make just as often they presented important issues to the public, more to prompt conversations and increase awareness than to persuade.
Our newspapers do continue to publish local editorials when possible. For civic issues, our reporters typcially have more access and have followed a story sometimes for months or years. This background is typically not available to the general public and the insights we have can be important to share with our readers to better understand the entire issue and not make a judgement based on one small aspect of the entire story.
During political season, we also will typically editorialize in favor or against issues and candidates. We do this for the same reasons as noted above. Specifically, our long-term knowledge of dealing with politicians or candidates, as well as seeing how a community struggles with an issue, provides us more insight into each. Since most readers don't take the time to fully vet an issue or candidate, we try to provide a fair assessment for them as background.
In the pre-Internet age, more people were interested in sharing their opinions with their local newspaper because - quite honestly - that was pretty much the only place to do it. Op-ed pages were lively places then, with stacks of letters and plenty of guest editorials by readers accustomed to making strongly-reasoned arguments.
Many papers have cut their opinion pages, sometimes because reader submissions have dwindled, sometimes to save money on staff - and usually both.
We continue to reserve a full page for opinions in our paper, as we have since forever, but some weeks it's a stretch to fill it. Submissions from readers come in fits and starts, staff is often juggling too much in a given week to compose a localized editorial and syndicated editorial cartoons (the only kind that exist anymore) are sometimes deemed irrelevant or inappropriate for our readership.
Occasionally people get confused about the opinion page in ways we don't understand. We field calls from angry readers railing against an "article" in our paper only to find out that the offending piece was not in the news section, but the opinion page, and it expressed the view of another reader.
We also are often accused of only publishing letters from one view point and holding letters that we don't agree with. The truth is that we strive to publish all letters that we receive. If many letters are shared all touting the similar opinion it is most likely because a group of people have organized a letter writing campaign to the newspaper to flood our opinion pages with similar views. If letters from the other side do not appear, it's because we didn't receive any.
One new challenge that the COVID-19 virus has inflicted upon us is the new combined format of all our newspapers. This temporary change means we have less pages available to run all the letters that we receive each week (less advertising means we can afford to print fewer news pages). The goal for the editor is to work through all the letter submissions and publish a balanced mix. And again, if only one side of an opinion is shared, it's because we didn't receive any others with an opposing view. We do strive to publish all submitted letters on the local Pamplin Media newspaper website from where the letter writer lives.
We do our best to vet letters and guest opinions for accuracy if there is something asserted that seems dubious to us. But it's a tough gig and can often be hard to verify and open to interpretation.
And that's where the fluidity of the opinion page comes in. Big papers have staff dedicated to this page and that is all they do. Smaller papers like us have to do the best they can, balancing the needs of the community to hear all voices with the need to be responsible.
We'd love to see more community conversations on our opinion page but it's sometimes hard to persuade people to stand by their views when they can vent anonymously online and avoid the fallout.
That element of the online world has created a culture that is a real loss to those of us who appreciate spirited yet civil discourse and the important role it has in our society.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.