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Blend substantive journalism with personal connection: use institutional editorials judiciously.

I'll leave avenues opened by the new technologies to the techies who have been practicing them for the twenty years since I retired. I'll stick to print, because I know it and because I believe solid written journalism will still be around no matter how the product comes to be delivered.

I think editorial page staffs ought to quit grinding out a set series of dreary editorials each day. Instead, let the editor assign one institutional editorial only on days when an issue cries out for a strong statement of the paper's opinion. Keep the opinion page. Don't fire the editorial writers. Assign them instead to write signed columns. They'll write better with their names and pictures involved. Readers prefer columns to anonymous editorials, anyway. They want a real person speaking to them. Column subjects could be kicked around at what's now the editor's editorial conference and parceled out by him or her. Keep 'em short. Write 'em live or be embarrassed.

We've routinely done this in all but the A section. Sports has columnists. Business has columnists. Features has columnists. Local has columnists. People get to know them and follow what they think. My idea for editorial columnists is far from new. As editor of The Atlanta Constitution for the first eight years of the 1960s, I managed to write a column on the editorial page seven days a week. In addition to that, the publisher of the paper, Ralph McGill, wrote his signed opinion seven days a week in column one of page one. If we wanted to gain special impact with an editorial on a truly major issue we didn't hesitate to take it out to double-column display on page one, clearly labeled 'An Editorial Opinion."

A lot of editorial pages have gotten to look rote and starchy, and they can be brought alive and bright if we would move back to a more personal conversation with our readers. Been there, done that. Readers like to know who's talking to them even if they violently disagree. Communication with one another has gotten to be more personal and direct, through such modern channels as blogs and emails and, yes, television. As keepers of the central flame of substantive journalism, newspapers need to come back closer to their readers now, tell them who we are, and refresh their spirits with the well-written word.

Eugene Patterson is the former editor and chief executive office of The St. Petersburg Times. He won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Email:
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Title Annotation:SYMPOSIUM: Saving journalism and the editorial page
Author:Patterson, Eugene
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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