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Measure for leadership, not followership.

MONICA: Have you ever considered the possibility that you're a reactionary?

HENRY: Of course not. I'm a lifelong Democrat.

MONICA: Well, politically, you may be as left wing as Malcolm X. But editorially you can still be a reactionary. And the same could be true of most of your friends.

HENRY: That does it. You can say anything you want about me, but you have to watch out when you attack my friends.

MONICA: Oh, calm down. Just look at some of the editorials you and your friends have been writing. Boris Yeltsin said he would not visit Japan because of a dispute over the Kurile Islands, and The New York Times responded by saying he "deserves sympathetic understanding for his decision." A month after the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to the Defense Department authorization bill providing money to accelerate the testing of an AIDS vaccine, The Washington Post complained that the process "is troubling." After attorney general William Barr appointed Frederick Lacey to be the special counsel to investigate Iraq-gate, The Wall Street Journal complained, "Our own choice would have been Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney." Unemployment increased again, and you said that's terrible and something needs to be done.

HENRY: So, what are you trying to say?

MONICA: First, tell me this: What are you and they trying to accomplish in your editorial columns?

HENRY: Oh, that's easy. We agree with the NCEW Basic Statement of Principles: "to provide the information and guidance toward sound judgments that are essential to the healthy functioning of a democracy."

MONICA: Excellent! Guidance is the key word. In order for a democracy to function well, decisions have to be made to do some things and to avoid other things. Right?

HENRY: Obviously.

MONICA: Then your task is to help lead your readers to judgments --sound judgments -- about what ought to be done and what ought to be avoided. They should show leadership. Is that true?

HENRY: Of course. But now I know your game. You got me into all this Basic Statement stuff so I'd forget about being called a reactionary.

MONICA: Not at all, Henry. Look at those editorials you and your friends have been writing. Those aren't the works of a leader. Instead, you've been on-lookers. Maybe even kibitzers. You haven't been leading. You have merely been reacting to the ideas and actions of others. That's what a reactionary does.

HENRY: There you go again with your insults!

MONICA: Ease up, Henry. Reactionaries are not all bad. We do have to look at what is going on; we have to know what the problems are. We have to react before we can begin the job of deciding what needs to be done or avoided. Reactionaries aren't bad; they are just sorely limited.

HENRY: Well, you're sorely limited, too!

MONICA: What?

HENRY: Sure. You've been sitting here on the sideline taking pot shots at me and my friends. Where is your positive advice? Where's your leadership?

MONICA: Touche. I have given some advice: We shouldn't be mere critics; we should also be advocates. But that's not much better than the "something needs to be done" platitude. And it suggests that I don't understand how difficult it is to exercise editorial leadership, especially when the staff is small, the time and other resources are limited, and editorial writing is only a part of one's job. One cannot be a leader every day with every editorial. Nevertheless it's important, I think, to keep the goal in mind and to keep working toward it.

HENRY: Come on, be specific.

MONICA: OK. Try this. Look at the editorials you wrote last week. They all dealt with the passing parade of events. If in any one of them you were out in front, carrying the flag, leading the way, pointing out the course that ought to be taken, initiating some new proposals, then give that editorial 10 points. If someone else was leading the way but you were right up near the front, strongly supporting the direction the parade ought to be going before any decision had been made, give that editorial five points. If you thought the parade was going in the wrong direction and you pointed that out before any decision was made, give the editorial two points. If you had thought the parade was heading in the right direction but you didn't say anything until the parade had passed you by, deduct two points. If, after the parade went past, you stood on the side and merely threw rocks at the departing marchers, deduct five points. And take away 10 points if you watched the parade go by but didn't say anything at all about the direction it was going.

HENRY: Oh, cute. But those figures seem arbitrary.

MONICA: They are. You can change the numbers if you want to. But notice that only the first option shows true leadership. The others identify increasing degrees of followership until you get to the last one, which is a pure cop-out.

HENRY: It all seems like a lot of work.

MONICA: Not at all. Do it once a week. It would take only a few minutes each time.

HENRY: But what's the point of it all?

MONICA: Better editorials, of course. Readers get pretty fed up with columns loaded with nothing but brickbats aimed at others who are trying to get something accomplished. It's like negative campaigning. And, of course, remember the NCEW Basic Statement of Principles.

HENRY: Well, at least that statement doesn't accuse anyone of being a reactionary!

NCEW member Warren G. Bovee is professor emeritus of journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:guidelines for evaluating editorials
Author:Bovee, Warren G.
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 1993
Words:943
Previous Article:Want cartoons? Try asking for them.
Next Article:You can find good opinion writing in unexpected places.
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