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Editorial page editors still call the shots.

A national survey reveals how opinion editors manage the delicate relationship with their publishers.

A 1993 study by Jong Kang and me analyzed the decision-making process in editorial writing for newspapers.

It points out that although publishers seem to have control over the editorial page content, the communication channels between publishers and opinion page writers are fairly open. However, that study focused primarily on the presence of political diversity among publishers and opinion page editors only; it did not go into detail about the process of editorial decision-making.

A 1996 study, using a sample of 216 newspapers across the United States, picks up where the Kapoor/Kang study left off.

Few studies have dealt with the decision-making process in editorial writing. A 1985 survey noted that out of 85 papers surveyed, 61% of chain-paper publishers took part in the decision-making process while 64% of the independents' publishers participated.

In the same study, editors contend that they are more liberal than their publishers and that they participate in decision-making. The editors also claimed to have voted, by a wide margin, for the Mondale endorsement in the 1984 Reagan/Mondale presidential election. However, the papers surveyed had overwhelmingly endorsed Reagan in the election. This apparent discrepancy deserves attention.

A recent case study of editorial writers concludes that publishers and owners do not meddle in editorial policy at the Greensboro News and Record in North Carolina. Its findings, even though informative, may not be valid for the majority of American newspapers.

Additionally, these studies do not address the process of how editorial policy gets made.

Our study proposes to fill this void. It also investigates at length the uses of news information technology.

Sample

Here's how our sample of 311 questionnaires breaks out:

* A total of 110 went to large newspapers with a circulation of over 100,000.

* Some 96 questionnaires went to medium newspapers with a circulation of 50,000 to 100,000.

* The remaining 105 questionnaires went to small newspapers with a circulation of below 50,000.

Out of the 311 newspapers surveyed, 216 responded.

Questionnaire

The study covered 12 questions about decision-making, plus nine demographic questions. The responding editors addressed concepts including:

* How frequently they express their opinion at editorial conferences.

* How frequently they feel their opinion prevailed in editorial conferences.

* How frequently they talk with their publishers, managing editor, and newsroom staff about various social, economic, and political issues.

Editors rated their responses to the 12 basic questions using a 1-to-7 point scale, with 1 representing hardly at all and 7 being daily.

They were also asked how certain actions - such as reading their newspaper and others, and talking with management, news staff, and with other editorial writers - helped them become familiar with their newspapers' ideology. Some questions addressed how frequently the publisher suggested that editors express a certain viewpoint in their editorial, as well as how much they thought their newspapers' political ideology affected their editorial writing.

Editors also answered questions about how often they used information technology when conducting research for editorials. They were asked how often they use wire services, their own newspapers' accounts, internal libraries, morgues, archives, the Internet, news clipping services such as Burrelle's, and newspaper databases.

Results

How frequently editors meet with publishers in editorial conferences. Editors from 98 medium-sized newspapers met with the publishers more (3.61 on a 1-7 scale) than editors from the 30 smaller (3.13) or 84 larger newspapers (2.88). No significant difference (.2230) existed between the groups.

How frequently editors expressed opinions in editorial conferences. The three sizes of newspapers show little mean difference. Editors indicated they were able to express opinions on an almost-daily basis.

Of the three sizes of newspapers, 30 smaller ones had the lowest mean score of 6.4, with 98 medium-sized newspapers having a mean score of 6.63, and the 84 larger newspapers with the highest score of 6.78.

Frequency of editor's opinion prevailing during editorial conference. Although the mean scores for the three sizes of newspapers were very close, editors from the 84 larger papers were more successful in having their opinions approved (5.64) than those from the 30 smaller (5.00) or the 98 medium-sized newspapers (5.55).

How frequently editors met with management outside of the office setting. None of the editors who responded to our survey indicated socializing to any great extent with management on a regular basis. Editors from 84 larger papers tend to meet more often with the publisher in a social setting (1.95) as compared to those from the 30 smaller (1.53) or from the 98 medium-sized newspapers (1.61).

However, editors from the 30 smaller newspapers tend to socialize more with the editorial page editor (2.73) and with members of the newsroom staff (3.46) than editors from the 98 medium or 84 larger newspapers did.

Frequency of social issues discussed. Overall, editors from the 98 medium-sized newspapers were more likely to discuss social issues with publishers (4.06), managing editors (4.51) and newsroom staff (4.77) than their counterparts on the 30 smaller or 84 larger newspapers.

Frequency of economic issues discussed. Again, editors from the 98 medium-sized newspapers had a greater likelihood of discussing economic issues with their publishers (3.95), managing editors (4.02) and newsroom staff (4.32) than editors from the other two sizes of newspapers surveyed.

Frequency political issues covered in the paper were discussed. Consistent with the findings on discussing social and economic issues, editors from 98 medium-sized newspapers thought they could discuss various political issues with their publishers (4.20) and newsroom staff (4.97) more than those from the 30 smaller and 84 larger newspapers. However, editors from the smaller newspapers had a greater tendency (4.86) to discuss these issues with their managing editor than editors from the medium (4.40) or larger (3.23) newspapers would.

Frequency editors are asked by the publisher to write an editorial expressing a certain viewpoint. The overall mean score was very low, 2.52. However, editors from 98 medium-sized newspapers indicated a slightly higher mean score (2.69) when compared to the 30 smaller (2.33) or the 84 larger (2.40) newspapers.

Effect of the newspaper's political ideology on editorial writing. Editors from 30 smaller (5.06) and 98 medium (5.06) newspapers were more affected in terms of their newspapers' ideology than editors from the 84 larger (4.78) newspapers.

Categories that aid editors in becoming familiar with their newspapers' ideologies. The 30 smaller-newspaper editors who responded indicated that reading their own newspapers helped them become familiar with their papers' ideological leanings. Their mean score was 4.00 compared to the 98 medium newspapers' mean of 3.08 and the 84 larger newspapers' mean of 2.69 for the same question.

Ninety-eight of the medium-newspaper editors felt that talking with other editorial writers helped them become familiar with their newspapers' ideological leaning. This is compared to 30 smaller newspapers' mean of 3.73 and 84 larger newspapers' mean of 3.52 in response to the same question.

Eighty-four of the larger-newspaper editors thought reading other newspapers, talking with management, and talking with the news staff helped them determine ideological leaning.

However, the mean score for reading other newspapers did not differ that much between the three sizes of papers. The 84 larger newspapers' mean was 4.45, compared to the 30 smaller newspapers' mean of 4.13 and the 98 medium-sized newspapers' mean score of 4.32.

Mean scores between the three newspapers to the question of talking with management had a greater (yet not significant) difference. The mean score for the 84 larger newspapers was 3.69, compared to the mean of the 30 smaller newspapers of 2.73 and the 98 medium newspapers' mean of 2.95.

When addressing the question of talking with news staff, the 84 larger-newspaper editors' mean was slightly higher, yet not significantly higher than the 30 smaller or 98 medium newspapers' mean. The larger newspapers' mean score was 4.23, while the mean for the smaller newspapers was 3.86 and medium mean score was 4.08.

Use of information technology when conducting research for editorials. The 30 smaller newspapers had a tendency to rely on news services more often than the 98 medium and 84 larger newspapers did. The smaller newspapers used wire services (6.00), compared to medium (5.57), and larger (5.66). Smaller newspapers indicated they also use clipping services more (1.73) than medium (1.55) or larger (1.69) newspapers do. Our findings also indicated smaller newspapers rely on their own newspaper accounts (6.60) more than editors from medium (6.16) or larger (6.11) newspapers do.

The use of a newspaper morgue for editorial research information was relied on more by the 98 medium newspapers (4.61) than by editors from the 30 smaller (4.60) or 84 larger (4.38) newspapers.

Larger newspapers were able to utilize modern technology such as the internal library, Internet library, and newspaper database more than the other two sizes of newspapers. In terms of using the internal library, the three sizes of newspapers did not show a significant difference in the mean score. However, editors from the larger newspapers use this technology on an average of 5.50 compared to smaller (4.86) or medium-sized (5.28) newspapers. The Internnet was used by the larger newspapers 2.90 more than by the smaller (2.73) or medium-sized (2.32) newspapers.

The greater difference of use was with the newspaper database. Larger newspapers used this technology on an average of 4.00 compared to smaller (2.86) or medium (2.85) newspapers.

Larger newspapers also used the archives slightly more, 4.00, compared to smaller (3.66), and medium (3.63) papers.

Age: The editors ranged in age from 33 years old to 63 years old with the greatest percentage, 9.5%, being 43.

Gender: Eighty-three percent of those responding to the survey were male editors.

Conclusion

A very important finding of our study is that smaller and medium newspapers are not utilizing modern information technology of the newspaper's database very frequently. However, noting that the larger newspapers are beginning to benefit from technological innovation is encouraging. Also promising is the finding that the Internet information resource is starting to make inroads in all of the newspaper circulation categories, even though the use is still a bit on the low side.

In regards to how editorial policy is being made, it appears that opinion page editors at the three sizes of newspapers agree that publishers pressure editors to write an editorial from a certain viewpoint very infrequently. Discovering that even editors of small newspapers are not pressured - though in this circulation category the temptation to control the editorial content could be rather strong - is heartening.

Finally, our study confirms the results of the Kapoor and Kang study pointing out that communication channels between publishers and editorial page writers/editors are fairly open. Not only do editors in all circulation categories indicate a high frequency of opinion expression at news conferences with publishers, but they also stress that editors' opinions prevailed in these conferences very frequently.

Suraj Kapoor is a professor at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. Janet Blue is a research associate.
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Blue, Janet
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 1997
Words:1887
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