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What NCEW members said: from the NCEW listserv beginning June 15, 2005.

Editor's Note: The debate among NCEW members over the changes on the Los Angeles Times editorial pages did not begin with the announcement, but rather with the combative declaration of support the changes enjoyed from a writer for the online magazine Slate. That exchange begins below.

JONATHAN GURWITZ, San Antonio Express-News: Slate's Timothy Noah weighs in today with a provocative commentary on Michael Kinsley and the L.A. Times. A few snippets:

"The editorial page has never really represented the opinions of the newspaper's owners, either, unless you're prepared to believe that the typical newspaper owner formulates on a daily basis three or four detailed opinions on matters of local, national, or international significance."

"If the newspaper editorial were, in itself, a compelling journalistic form, it might be worth going on pretending that editorials represented something more than the opinion of a few journalists assigned to the editorial page and their boss, the editorial page editor."

"I therefore suggest that Kinsley, in shaking up the LA. Times editorial board and proposing all sorts of innovations, should embrace the most obvious one: Eliminate the editorial page."

"Another reason we haven't yet seen the withering away of the editorial page is that its elimination depends not only on the imagination and guts of editorial page editors to buck respectable opinion but also on the willingness of these editors to eliminate their own jobs."

In these parts, we'd call those fightin' words.

DAN RADMACHER, The Roanoke Times: Why does this sound to me like Mr. Noah is saying, "What I do is what's actually important and compelling"? Anyone turn him down for an editorial job recently? Sounds a bit like sour grapes to me.

Seriously, though, think the idea that no one wants to read editorials is flat-out wrong. No one wants to read boring editorials, sure. But a lively editorial page still attracts significant readership mostly, I would argue, because of the editorials. And, as we've seen some anecdotal evidence in the thread about officials' interest in editorials, they still get the attention of at least some policy wonks.

MARK C. MAHONEY, The Post-Star, Glens Falls, New York: You could make those same lame arguments about newspapers in general. "No one reads them anymore. They're not relevant. Blah blah."

Newspapers, and their opinion pages, certainly have a role in their communities. But the writing and design have to be purposeful and compelling to fulfill that role.

If the purpose of your editorials is to preach, then I agree with this guy--get out of the editorial business and join a church. If your purpose is to blow your own horn, join a marching band.

But if your purpose is to spur discussion among citizens on current issues, synthesize the arguments, and offer suggestions for improving the community, then editorials certainly have a valuable place.

As we all know, we ain't in this for the pay and certainly not the glory. But if we do our jobs right, we can actually make a difference in our communities.

Imagine that.

MITCH OLSZAK, New Castle News, Pennsylvania: Call me biased (everyone else does), but I think there's an essential role for editorial writers in a free society.

Op-ed pieces are too often spin put out by flacks and special interests.

And much of the remaining commentary these days is put out by those on the left and right who are more loyal to their ideologies than to common sense integrity, and courage.

Locally, our editorials are often the only voice that stands in contrast to the assorted political idiocies of the moment. It's a voice that (I hope) is more than mere rant. Rather, it's one of some experience, knowledge, and authority. Newspapers and our culture as a whole surrender these at our own peril.

I'm all for critical self-analysis and challenging the status quo. I am not for the abandonment of a crucial forum for debate and analysis.

FRAN K PARTSCH, Omaha World-Herald: Well, yes. Dan nails it. I get really tired of the notion that something we have done this way for a long time is by definition worn out and in need of innovation. A lot of damage has been done to otherwise good newspapers whose "love me, please" editors listened to news doctors and consultants and came to develop a sense of self-loathing because they were still doing things the old way.

Admittedly, the old way was too often ineffective. But this ineffectiveness came not because it was the old way per se but because what a lot of newspapers do nowadays constitutes merely an unwork-manlike job of aping the old way. The editorial pages often considered the best in the country--those run by the Henningers, Greenbergs, Holwerks, Collinses, Ogilvies, and Steins in our midst--haven't rejected the old way. They merely pursue the old way with the attention it deserves, namely sensible topic selection, a mature understanding of the institutional voice and, most of all, good writing, which, sadly, is not a skill that automatically is imbued with the oxygen in the editorial page suite.

So let some people destroy the editorial page in the same way the iconoclasts bashed religious artworks throughout Europe, destroying priceless art under the guise of opposing superstition. For my money, and speaking from day-to-day feedback about the value of a traditional editorial page and the philosophy of institutional opinions, it would be a mistake to condemn editorial pages to oblivion just because the custodians thereof, in some places, have allowed this treasure to erode and decay through their own lack of writing ability, courage, or application.

MUSTAFA MALIK, Cheverly, Maryland: Some of our old traditions are of course still the best. Aren't we glad, though, that we've outgrown most others (and are embarrassed to remember some)? I tend to think that the decline of journalism in opinion polls and of the circulation of our major newspapers is calling for some soul-searching about the journalistic tradition. That includes editorial and opinion writing. I admire Kinsley because he's doing some serious soul-searching. Obviously, many editorial and opinion pages are popular with their readers and don't need any changes.
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Title Annotation:SYMPOSIUM: The Big Blow-Up and the future of editorial pages; National Conference of Editorial Writers
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Previous Article:The paper's community voice cannot be delegated to outsiders: outsourcing editorials could erode relationship with readers.
Next Article:Kinsley should be applauded for his interactive initiative: and the L.A. Times is far from alone in changing the world of opinions as we know it.

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