Someone, finally, must make a decision: the editorial writer is a mercenary, paid to make the best case for the newspaper's position.
Suppose your newspaper has chosen to have an editorial board. The next questions concern meetings. When do you meet? Who sits in? And what are the dynamics?
Some find a daily one-hour editorial board meeting to be a necessity. Others have found that daily meetings, while well-intentioned, can be nonproductive. A chance encounter at the coffee machine suffices as the editorial board meeting for other papers. And that works for them.
As to who gets in and how it goes, some papers like to have a dozen writers and editors espousing their views; others want a smaller group. Some boards can reasonably discuss an issue and agree on a position through consensus. Others have the participants actually vote on the position. ("All in favor of the county spending $20 million on a new sewer line, say 'aye.' Motion passes. Now, on to abortion.... ")
It really doesn't matter how your organization does its editorial board meetings. What matters is what comes out of them. Eventually, you've got to write something. The most frustrating thing as an editorial writer is trying to please everyone in a meeting by including all their views. Some of their points are relevant to the argument. Others aren't. And even those points that are relevant may not deserve as much weight as some other line of argument. It's the purpose of the editorial board meeting to sort it all out and come to a decision, no matter whose nose gets out of joint.
The worst thing an editorial writer can do is try to be a PR guy--try to please everyone. The readers. The reporters. The other editors.
Your job is to serve your readers by making a strong case for a particular position.
The key to reaching a consensus is a healthy relationship between the editors involved and a clear idea of your paper's editorial mission.
That's where written mission statements or a general understanding among the top editors comes in handy. Our publisher generally stays out of the day-to-day editorial decisions. He can do that comfortably because, over the years, he's conveyed to us where he wants the paper to stand on various issues. So now he trusts us. And when we're not sure what he wants, we ask.
Then there's the relationship among the people in the meeting. Whether it's a one-on-one discussion between the managing editor and the writer (in most cases me), or a full gathering to endorse a candidate for mayor, we all show respect for each other's intelligence and approaches to the issues. Diversity of opinion should be encouraged, but it shouldn't be allowed to paralyze the editorial board.
That leads to another key element of the successful editorial board--someone with the power to make a decision. Consensus is nice, but eventually somebody has to take charge and make a call. Otherwise, the danger exists of winding up with a wishy-washy sermon that bores the readers and fails to guide them to a particular point of view.
As the editorial page editor and principal writer at our paper, I've got significant say into what the paper's opinion is and how it's fashioned. But in reality, the editorial writer is a mercenary--paid not for his personal viewpoint, but for his ability to make the best case for the newspaper's viewpoint. The top editor makes the final decision, and the writers and other editorial board members have to respect that.
During a forum with college newspaper editors in New York City in April, one experienced editorial writer told students that when it comes to editorial board decisions, he has five votes and the publisher has five thousand. That's as it should be. Without someone in charge who has the power to turn thumbs-up or thumbs-down on elements of the editorial, the system falls apart.
The bottom line with editorial board meetings is we're all going to do things our different ways. What works as an editorial board at one paper may not work nearly as well at another. The final determination of success is the final product.
Does your editorial help the community by contributing to the public discourse and furthering the discussion? Do you make valid arguments for your paper's position while giving adequate due to alternate interpretations? Is the editorial strongly written, or is it a dishrag that just fills the column?
When it comes to editorial board meetings, the ends really do justify the means. And if they don't, then try a different approach.
Mark Mahoney is editorial page editor of the Post Star in the Glens Falls, New York, E-mail Mahoney@poststar.com
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|Title Annotation:||Who really calls the shot?|
|Author:||Mahoney, Mark C.|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2004|
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