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A good page should be a lively dinner party.

Often when you talk about access to editorial pages, it seems that every wacko in the world has it. It's as if the talk radio virus had wormed its way into the editorial board's computer and crawled out onto the pages, leaving no space for sane, reasoned commentary.

Maybe that's some kind of progress. Editorial pages read like pages edited by dweebs, which is just what our sometime-colleague David Holwerk thought of them when he organized the 1992 NCEW convention in Lexington, Ky., as a Dweeb Fest. The Pulitzer committee evidently concurred in 1993, awarding no prize for editorial writing.

Between the dweebs and the wackos lies an accessible, readable editorial page.

My ideal editorial page is a newspaper counterpart to lively dinner conversation. Invite a comfortable number of people so that everyone has a chance to talk and listen. They shouldn't be all alike at any one time or over time. Through a year of dinners, you'd want women and men, young and old, gay and straight, of many colors, faiths, and national origins. You'd want people who are highly educated and self-taught, readers and TV viewers, capitalists and socialists from the mainstream and fringe of every neighborhood in town.

Everybody contributes to the conversation, and can say thoughtful or outrageous things. The only hard and fast rule is we all have to be civil to one another.

It's not so hard to find the people to say things, but it's very hard to keep the discourse civil.

Our editorial pages, which I can praise because I have no role in them now, publish a regular piece called "Who we are."

Leaders of community groups - do-gooders or those with a special interest or even those with just an attitude - write 600 words or so explaining what the organization does and how readers can get involved.

One drawback is that the "Who we are" columns can become like the disease-of-the-week syndrome because they so often deal with organizations that help people who don't function well. That may deter some readers who have an idea but not a problem.

But the pages also run pieces called "My view," which are longer than a letter to the editor and better-written commentaries on an editorial, a trend, or the passing scene.

Keeping it civil means running the risk of reining in the outrageous or cleaning things up too much. Yeah, we want to sound literate, but we ought to let some people write the way they talk. They give us the ring of authenticity.

So we have given house room and a hearing to these disparate threads. Will any of them ever work their way into the minds and hearts of editorial writers and affect the papers' editorial policy? Should they?

Ideally, the newspaper itself would speak with a strong, reasoned voice from its place at the dinner table. The people who make the policy would be open to new ideas and consider them in the mix of their basic outlook. Changes would evolve, but slowly.

A newspaper's editorial policy shouldn't shift with every new wind blowing in, though it can change dramatically every time a new publisher blows into town. But God forbid that it change just to please readers or advertisers.

In the end, the editorial page ought not to try to get us to think the way it does, but to get us to think.

NCEW board member Nancy Q. Keefe is a columnist for Gannett Suburban Newspapers in White Plains, N.Y.
COPYRIGHT 1995 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Columnists Critique Editorial Pages; editorial page
Author:Keefe, Nancy Q.
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Dec 22, 1995
Words:583
Previous Article:Work hard to keep readers involved.
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