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Give readers what they want: a real spread on their editorial table. The best hope for the survival of newspapers is their commentary sections.

Guessing the future of newspapers has become a full-time occupation for legions of journalists who figure their days are numbered. I feel "our" pain, but am optimistic that newspapers will survive--if editors and publishers do exactly as I command.

(I just wanted to see what it felt like to write that.)

More to the point, I'm feeling like Israel these days. The time for diplomacy with self-destructive fools is past. May I be direct?

Forget the Internet, blogs, cable news--and then forget the international page(s). The best hope that newspapers have for survivial is the commentary section, and the best hope for the commentary section is more.

More pages, more voices, more of everything that makes people like me turn to the editorial pages first. I'm not interested in news headlines, which are outdated by the time my paper arrives. I've already read the latest update from Beirut three minutes ago and my paper was printed last night.

What I want is informed commentary and great writing. Lots of it. If I were dictator, my newspaper would have not one, but four to six pages of opinion columns by a variety of seasoned commentators.

And, please, give three cartoonists a job. Scratch that. As dictator, I don't have to say "please" As David Starsky famously said, "Do it." You don't need one staff cartoonist; you need three. By now you've heard a thousand times that there were two hundred cartoonists twenty years ago; today there are about seventy. That's a lot of talent lost, along with readers who no longer bother with a bland opinion section bereft of the passion and humor cartoonists bring to the page

Let me put it this way: I read The New Yorker cover to cover, but I buy it for the cartoons.

Here's how I approach a newspaper: First, I glance at the section fronts and throw half of them away Next I go to the editorial page, which I read in the following order: (1) cartoon, (2) opeds, (3) letters to the editor, (4) editorials. In other words, I save the best for last, she said without any discernible lengthening of her nose.

I've never understood why papers trim costs in the interest of self-preservation by killing the very things that make them unique and indispensable. The Chicago Tribune never replaced Jeff McNelly. The Los Angeles Times fired cartoonist Michael Ramirez--one of the primary reasons readers might subscribe to the Times. Few papers host a national "anchor" columnist anymore. Once upon a time, when you thought of Chicago, you thought of Royko. The Boston Globe was Mike Barnicle or Ellen Goodman. The San Francisco Chronicle was Herb Caen.

I would buy the Chicago Tribune for the express purpose of reading McNelly and Royko. That's more true today than ever, thanks to the market's glut of mediocrity, but they and others like them are gone. Never to be replaced?

The Internet and blogosphere provide galaxies of snippets, blurbs, blurts, and bleats--bludgeoning consumers with data. What I want from a newspaper is a good read, the best of the best culled by an interesting, curious editor. I'm willing to pay for that, but first you have to provide it.

I know, I know. You're shaking your head, thinking, How are we supposed to pay for all these extra pages and product? I don't know. As the waiter said to the patron asking for the time, "That's not my table." But I know this much without consulting the bean counters in the tower: You have to spend a little money to make money.

And if we want readers, we have to give them something to read.

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post Writers Group. E-mail kparker@ kparker.com
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Title Annotation:SYMPOSIUM: The future of our opinions
Author:Parker, Kathleen
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Words:626
Previous Article:The paperless opinion page: the best opinion pages are as diverse as their audiences.
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