Signed editorials send contradictory message.A few of us mossbacks remember when bylines were rarer in the news columns. They weren't claimed as a reporter's right. Editors gave them out (grudgingly grudg·ing
Adv. 1. , it sometimes seemed) as a reward for stellar reporting or distinguished writing. Most news stories, including the vast majority of totally adequate, impressively workmanlike work·man·like
Befitting a skilled artisan or craftsperson; skillfully done.
skilfully done: a neat workmanlike job
Adj. 1. accounts of the happenings of the day, went unsigned unsigned
(of a letter etc.) anonymous
Adj. 1. unsigned - lacking a signature; "the message was typewritten and unsigned"
signed - having a handwritten signature; "a signed letter" . These unsigned stories were the report of the newspaper. No one demanded a signature to make a news story more legitimate or reader-friendly.
In the same way that unsigned stories were the news report of the newspaper, unsigned editorials were assumed to be the opinions of the newspaper. They were taken to be the voice of management or the ownership, speaking through the editorial page as a community institution. To sign them with the name of the publisher or top editor would have been redundant, although a few powerful editors and publishers couldn't resist.
Michael McGough, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, also known simply as the PG, is the largest daily newspaper serving metropolitan Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Early history editorial page editor, has described what happened to Things As They Were. Writing in The New Republic on March 11, 1991, he noted the passing of an era in which "the voice belonged to the proprietor." In time, he said, the voice passed to "an equally imperial editor." In the more recent stage of evolution, "an editor or editorial page editor . . . is likely to preside pre·side
intr.v. pre·sid·ed, pre·sid·ing, pre·sides
1. To hold the position of authority; act as chairperson or president.
2. To possess or exercise authority or control.
3. over an editorial board [that] theoretically, anyway . . . decides on the editorial's opinions."
At the same time, McGough correctly pointed out, strong individuals have continued to hold sway. Editors vet editorials that are written by subordinates. Publishers pass final judgment on major statements, set positions, or maintain guidelines guidelines,
n.pl a set of standards, criteria, or specifications to be used or followed in the performance of certain tasks. .
McGough quotes NCEW NCEW National Conference of Editorial Writers past president Joanna Wragg, then of The Miami Herald, to the effect that "the editor single-handedly outvotes the rest of the editorial board." Indeed, at some very good American newspapers, it's still true that the publisher has three votes, the editor two, and the editorial board collectively one, with ties going to the publisher.
We could debate the realities of life in another forum. For now, readers look at an editorial and hear the voice of "the newspaper."
Certainly many parts of the newspaper have become more personalized per·son·al·ize
tr.v. per·son·al·ized, per·son·al·iz·ing, per·son·al·iz·es
1. To take (a general remark or characterization) in a personal manner.
2. To attribute human or personal qualities to; personify. , following broadcasting's almost unavoidable personalization Custom tailoring information to the individual. On the Web, personalization means returning a page that has been customized for the user, taking into consideration that person's habits and preferences. of everything it touches. In the newspapers, it's not uncommon for a six-inch account of a fender-bender to get a byline. In the 1990s, a beginning reporter has a public persona that only a few of the high fliers once had.
All this has a downside Downside
The dollar amount by which the market or a stock has the potential to fall.
You might hear someone say that the downside on stock XYZ is $10. What that means is that the stock could fall by this amount if things got bad. . A byline is a ticket to local celebrityhood. It is also an invitation to be judged and rejected if found to be unreliable. The believability be·liev·a·ble
Capable of eliciting belief or trust. See Synonyms at plausible.
be·lieva·bil of the news becomes a function of the credibility of the writer.
I have yet to be convinced that a similar personalizing of editorial comment would be desirable or even logical. Bylines exist for a purpose: to identify a writer with the product. If the definition of an editorial is "the opinion of the newspaper," the reader gets a contradictory message when the opinion is also identified as that of a writer.
The editorial board is a group of people who come and go. The newspaper is fixed in the community firmament. Readers are going to notice if the newspaper itself no longer stands behind its opinions, or so one would think.
In his 16 years of writing editorials for the Post-Gazette, McGough said, "I have never been in doubt that the newspaper stood for something - racial equality, strong public schools, a regional approach to local government - and that it should speak in a certain way." When "the newspaper" speaks, he said, the voice is different than if an individual takes credit. In his experience, McGough said, "an argument is taken more seriously when it comes from the Post-Gazette than when it appears under my humble byline."
For most of the everyday workhorse work·horse
1. Something, such as a machine, that performs dependably under heavy or prolonged use: "the 50-year-old DC-3 ... press - the national, regional, and community news organizations - the elimination of unsigned institutional opinion would reflect a fundamental change that could very well confuse readers and drastically sap the authority of editorial pages.
McGough gives the essence of the argument for unsigned editorials. They work. They work! They carry more weight. They represent not an individual, or even a group of individuals, but an institution, a tradition, a culture with roots deep in the community and a commitment to be in place long after the current generation has passed away. We may have quit expecting publishers singlehandedly to be the keepers of the flame, but let us allow whoever now keeps it to operate with the same authoritative mystique mys·tique
An aura of heightened value, interest, or meaning surrounding something, arising from attitudes and beliefs that impute special power or mystery to it: the cowboy mystique; the mystique of existentialism. . Some people laugh at "the little man behind the curtain in concealment; in secret.
See also: Curtain ," but a little mystery about how things are done isn't necessarily A Bad Thing.
An editorial page that is worthy of its traditions is more than a committee assembled lately. It speaks with historical perspective, insight, and institutional memory. If the latest arrival on the editorial board, someone who blew in from Syracuse or Fresno in the past month, signs today's editorial, what are readers to think? What does this newcomer know about Our Flood of 1952, the epidemic of 1919, or the race riot of 19107 Readers know about those things. They expect their newspaper to have been around just as long.
Imagine the editorial one could have written against the Persian Gulf War Persian Gulf War
or Gulf War
(1990–91) International conflict triggered by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Though justified by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on grounds that Kuwait was historically part of Iraq, the invasion was presumed to be if the writer could also remind readers that the newspaper had opposed the Spanish-American War Spanish-American War, 1898, brief conflict between Spain and the United States arising out of Spanish policies in Cuba. It was, to a large degree, brought about by the efforts of U.S. expansionists. . Such comment, of course, must come from the newspaper. It lacks credibility if trumpeted by a writer who came in within the past year-and-a-half.
The relationship between readers and their newspaper is longstanding. Putting signatures or bylines on editorials inserts a third party into the relationship. It's like a kid sister looking over the back of the sofa. Readers would forever have to wonder whose voice is speaking: the newspaper's or that of some new entity; a writer or a committee of writers who may or may not be here next year.
It's said that signing our editorials makes us more accountable. We should beware of worshiping at that particular altar. We aren't government officials. We have not been elected. We have placed ourselves in the marketplace with the promise that we will deliver useful information and opinion. Period. If we can keep that promise consistently, we have carried out our historic mission.
Most readers haven't been demanding more navel-gazing from the editorial pages; they don't demand to know who writes the editorials or how the decisions are made. They want comment that is clear, well-written, useful, informative, and logical. We should be concerned about results, not process.
We are told that we must sign our editorials to become more reader-friendly. If so, let's first determine why - or, more important, whether - we are perceived to be reader-unfriendly. Is it because we argue forcefully force·ful
Characterized by or full of force; effective: was persuaded by the forceful speaker to register to vote; enacted forceful measures to reduce drug abuse. , demand attention, or lead?
Or is it because we have become bland and preoccupied with form over content? If it is the latter, signing our editorials won't help. The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times and The Wall Street Journal aren't to my knowledge leaning toward signed editorials to regain lost readers. They continue to lead and influence and attract readers the old-fashioned way - with the power of their logic and the force of their writing. They aren't industry leaders for nothing. The burden on the rest of us is to do no less.
Surrendering the tradition of unsigned editorials would blur the difference between editorials and columns. To water down our editorials to the point where they are no more than bylined articles would constitute a sort of unilateral disarmament Unilateral disarmament is a policy option, to renounce weapons without seeking equivalent concessions from one's actual or potential rivals. It was most commonly used in the 20th century in the context of unilateral nuclear disarmament to the lobbyists, activists, and pressure groups who see a strong, independent editorial page as an obstacle to their own attempts to achieve dominant influence in the community.
Forcing a writer to sign his or her name would be unfair to that writer. If the signed editorial is 100% the writer's work, with no attempt to rein in to check the speed of, or cause to stop, by drawing the reins.
to cause (a person) to slow down or cease some activity; - to rein in is used commonly of superiors in a chain of command, ordering a subordinate to moderate or cease some activity deemed excessive.
See also: Rein Rein the writer's impulses to coincide with institutional views, it is not the view of the institution. Therefore, it is not an editorial in any reasonable sense of the term.
On the other hand, if it is tailored to the views of the newspaper, it is not the writer's work and shouldn't be signed. No writer should ever be forced to sign someone else's work. Not even if the signature carries a "for the board" disclaimer.
We need to decide which way we will have it. Editorials or signed somethings? It can't logically be both.
NCEW member Francis L. Partsch is editor of the editorial pages for the Omaha World-Herald The Omaha World-Herald, based in Omaha, Nebraska, is the primary daily newspaper of Nebraska as well as portions of southwest Iowa. It is the largest employee-owned newspaper company in the United States. History
The newspaper was founded in 1885 by Gilbert M. in Nebraska.