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Celebrate traditional excellence.

Imagine spending three consecutive days doing nothing but reading the best work of 78 editorial writers. If that sounds a little daunting, multiply by 10 and you're talking serious seat time. Fortunately, daunting efforts, once completed, always seem to have their rewards - as did the experience of serving this spring on a nominating jury for the Pulitzer Prizes.

Many of you have done some form of this as a contest judge - as have I. For me, though, it was a new and revealing exercise to read, evaluate, and discuss the art of editorial writing in such concentrated fashion. It was an experience that struck me, and my four juror-colleagues, as illuminating. It also made each of us think about what we might want to change back home.

A first glance at the motley jumble of notebooks on our table made me wonder how many would contain editorials about the Clinton scandal. After all, the year-long saga occupied an unusual amount of editorialists' thoughts last year. Diving into the mix, however, we found a great number of other worthy subjects - a sampling of which you've seen in this issue. The five of us (two editorial page editors and three newspaper editors) found ourselves frequently complimenting (should this be surprising?) work that demonstrated traditional editorial excellence. Some of the most compelling pieces weren't about the scandal of 1998, weren't examples of the most expensive or complex projects. Instead, they were clean, clear, ringing calls for a wrong to be righted - or a potential wrong to be averted.

Happily, many of them made a difference. Sadly, few attempted to comment on the world beyond the United States. Whatever the subject, the editorials that brought a gleam to the eye and an exclamation to the group tended to be clear, fervent, and repeated expressions of opinion - i.e., the well-argued, standard editorial or its cousin, the editorial crusade.

Why should that surprise? Perhaps because in recent years editorial writers have focused so much on innovations - from public journalism to quasi-investigative editorial projects to turning the page over to op-eds. Not that they shouldn't. But the process of reading all those entries led this Pulitzer jury into a recurring conversation about the plain, simple value of a plain, simple call to action: honor the First Amendment; fix an inequity; cut/raise taxes; protect a wetland; save a historic building; reform education; protect the rights of patients, defendants, taxpayers, workers.

Read pointed, persuasive editorials that carry moral purpose - read them all at once, as we did - and you'll come away, I guarantee you, rededicated to the editorial art form.

You'll also worry about its health. I think editorial writers and editors too often fall into believing those who write or call and tell us we're arrogant, who say, as a prominent Minnesota CEO did in a letter to my boss this week: "I suggest that you consider ending your policy of endorsing political candidates. Regardless of any argument that there is a wall between the Editorial Page and the news, no one believes it." Too often we give credence to people who ask, "Who are you to thrust your opinion on thousands of others?"

We must not doubt who we are or what we do. We must not believe that expressing a commitment to our values amounts to arrogance. We must not denigrate - even in a well-meaning attempt to avoid arrogance - the role of editorials in a free press. To the extent that we do, we weaken our craft and erode a critical democratic tradition. Editorial writing deserves, instead, the best stewardship we can muster.
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Conference of Editorial Writers
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:importance of excellence in the art of editorial writing
Author:Albright, Susan
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:President's Page
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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