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Personalize institutional opinions with a face: give readers/viewers some to like or dislike.

Newspapers should thank broadcasters for being so timid about airing editorials. If our industry had made this a habit years ago, editorial pages might be irrelevant. Instead, they remain influential because, in nearly every city, they are the only voice in town.

For their part, broadcasters should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping up and making editorials a part of their everyday offerings to their viewers. They'll give you a litany of excuses for why they don't. "We never fought for the franchise." "We are a regulated industry and offending politicians or the FCC could cost us our license." Or, in hushed tones: "We don't want to risk offending advertisers." Or, in all honesty: "We didn't want to spend the money." (Too bad, because editorials are not an expenditure; they're an investment.)

Now fast-forward to the world of new media, where newspapers and broadcasters are getting a chance to duke it out in uncharted territory.

I attended my first NCEW convention last September and came away from your meeting convinced that the traditional media who lead in op-ed will have an edge in the hand-to-hand combat for dominance on the Web. This time around, broadcasters should not be cavalier or make excuses for staying out of this arena. But by the same token, newspapers should not be so arrogant as to think that doing what they do in print will work online. News of newspapers abandoning their editorials altogether should be a wake-up call.

Change in the op-ed section is needed, especially if you're in a city where broadcasters reach into the op-ed space. And I'm not simply talking about an editorial board member who looks into a cheap camera and reads newspaper-style editorials that get posted on a dull Website afterward. In the TV world we have a word for this: boring. I'm talking about something more exciting and engaging.

To the California editor who asked why papers should have "anonymous editorials that purport to speak for every employee of our newspaper," I say, right on! Personalize them! Take a lead from TV and give your opinions a face in your print editions by associating your publisher, editorial page editor, or some other designated person with what you write. Show her picture. Give her a personality. Let her really speak for the paper.

Of course you should make it clear that your editorials still represent the voice of your publication, as opposed to that one individual's. But it would be a voice delivered by a person, not the dull and institutional, flat and two-dimensional one we read today. With this one-on-one communication, you would allow the reader to develop an attachment to your organization--to get personal--to really like or dislike someone!

Once you've established your voice, carry that personality over to the Web, where neither broadcasters nor newspapers have established a beachhead. We must enhance our current, paltry efforts, those letters to the editor, viewer comments, and other lame ways of pretending to have a dialogue with our communities. Citizens have made it clear they have opinions, and made it even clearer that they want to be heard. Sure, they can have their own blogs, but let's face it: they want their voices to be heard through our voice because it's also the one voice their neighbors hear. We still have the mass audience they want. And luckily for them, the Web has developed to the point where the audio, video, text, and editing tools are now available to us to amplify their voices. While it doesn't make as good an adage, user-generated video can be mightier than the sword. We simply have to be willing to share some of our power.

Reaching our neighbors is the endgame, and news organizations that are more interested in the Pulitzers and the Murrows than the Smiths and the Jones won't be around a few years from now. Your Kansas City convention convinced me more than ever that local opinion journalism, and especially a strong editorial voice, is a unique selling proposition. It's something that media from out of town can't offer. And even if others in our own city do it, it's a completely different product. We should all be studying ways to grow our editorial impact, our viewer interaction, and thus, our reach. It's a way to expand our audience, and we hope, take some money to the bank.

But call me when you're looking for the name of a good hair and makeup consultant.

Tom Bier is vice president and station manager for WISC-TV. He formerly was news director and is a past chair of the Radio- Television News director Association Email: tbier@wisctv.com
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Title Annotation:SYMPOSIUM: jumping into the future; editorials
Author:Bier, Tom
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:777
Previous Article:Blend substantive journalism with personal connection: use institutional editorials judiciously.
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