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Community input walks in the door every day.

We don't have a community editorial "board" at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. We get our community input raw, from the street, as members of the public join us nearly every morning for a free-flowing discussion of events in the news that day.

Our editorial meetings are sometimes rambunctious, often enlightening, and always fun as a result. We enjoy ourselves when we look our readers straight in the face, and they look in ours, and we talk directly with one another about things of mutual interest.

Open editorial meetings sometimes have gone awry when they have been tried elsewhere. That may be because the editors themselves have misunderstood the purpose. They are not purely listening sessions; the newspaper has a place for those, but not at the daily editorial meetings. They are not gripe sessions, where long-faced editors sit and listen to the complaints of the day - and usually do absolutely nothing about them because, again, this isn't the vehicle.

Strictly business

Our open editorial meetings are strictly working meetings of the type we have every morning of the week. They are not contrived, and they are not exotic. We do precisely the same thing whether anyone from the public is there or not.

People often come just to observe, though I make it clear at the beginning of every meeting that guests are free to join the discussion as they see fit. Many of them do, and we regularly pick up good ideas from them.

(Want to make a friend of a reader forever? Write an editorial about something he or she has brought up at an editorial meeting.)

Community members sometimes get so much into the discussion that they slip into talk about what "we" should have on the editorial page the next day, and the points "we" should make for a particular editorial to be effective. I love it. If we could make every member of this community feel it was his or her editorial page, it would be "mission accomplished" for us.

When you bring members of the public into the editorial tent, they no longer are faceless, bloodless "readers" or "customers" or "subscribers." They suddenly are friends and colleagues and neighbors, with the same hopes and strengths and prejudices and weaknesses that we have, all of us striving in our own ways to make the world a better place.

We began this exercise in open meetings - a principle journalists are quick to embrace when it involves others - as a means of "demystifying" the editorial page. After 3 1/2 years of operation, it has been an unqualified success.

The fears that some expressed - all variations of the theme that "we've never done it that way before" - simply didn't materialize. Not a single lunatic has shown up, and no special interest group has tried to take over a meeting.

In a few minutes, I will be leaving my office and walking down the hall to our daily editorial meeting, and I can hardly wait to see who's on the other side of the door. It may well be someone I've never met, and who might never have been inside the newspaper before.

I wonder what the people in the tent will have to say today, and what we might be writing about tomorrow as a result.

NCEW member George Neavoll is editorial page editor of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.
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:The Masthead Symposium: Advising the Editorial Page
Author:Neavoll, George
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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