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Sometimes we joke as a way to cope.

In case you missed the hilarious list of ."shorthand" editorial types, which Jim Boyd in Minneapolis kicked off this spring on the NCEW-L online exchange, we offer an edited compendium on page 46.

The list is remarkably comprehensive - and a bit unsettling. One contributor called it "the most fun and also the least meaningful series of comments I've seen overall on the listserver." A college editor deadpanned: "Gee, who could possibly say journalists are cynical?"

A more-seasoned colleague posted this lament: "I think these nicknames are really symbolic of the lack of real passion and commitment in the American press."

This prompted a number of thoughtful and tonic responses. One contributor called the list an example of the kind of gallows humor that helps emergency workers cope at grisly accident scenes. "Acknowledging the patterns means you've been doing the job long enough that you recognize your format and limitations clearly," he wrote. "That doesn't keep anybody from writing with conviction and passion - saving lives, if you will."

Give Boyd, the instigator, the last word. He cautioned that the list "cannot convey to those who don't know the posters a sense of the enormous amount of energy they put into writing, editing, and publishing editorials that avoid falling into the traps these labels imply."

A second series of postings was anything but frivolous. They came in response to a explorative inquiry into the core mission of the editorial page, from college editor Stephanie Wilbur at the University of Iowa. In citing sociologist Hannah Arendt's description of "The Public Sphere," she suggested that editorial pages should be "a place where people can talk back ... discuss matters of importance, have meaningful dialogue, and sometimes come to consensus."

"Exactly right," responded one correspondent. "That's why editorial pages are so needed. They are, in printed form, community meetings where neighbors can speak."

Another said that "what we're really trying to do is get a discussion started."

Others saw the core mission a bit differently. One recounted attending a seminar where opinion editors still portrayed themselves as "the moral arbiter of the universe." Those who didn't either worked at papers where the publisher called the shots, saw their roles as community moderator and debate leader, or "were so busy they were just happy to get something in print every day."

We give the last word on this discussion to Frank Partsch of Omaha.

In a long response to Wilbur he acknowledged the "public sphere" role of editorial pages, but added that "Most of us ... didn't aspire to be editorial page editors and editorial writers because we hoped to be chairpersons of workshops and moderators of discussion groups."

Editorial pages should "stand for something," he argued. "Sometimes there are no opinions on an issue until the newspaper has one. Then people start thinking. This isn't a job for neutral discussion leaders."

Which brings us to Michael Gartner. At our request, the winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing furnished some of his winning entries.

Gartner provides an inspiring template for the enduring relevance and vitality of the craft. He embodies the kind of "intentional" writer Paul Greenberg talks about in his column reprinted on page 36 - engaged, diligent, uncompromising. The example he sets is a daunting one - especially to editors who, like me, scramble some days "to get something into print."

Falling short is no excuse to stop trying. Do your best to provide readers with editorials that advocate with originality and authority, and you surely will enliven the "public sphere."
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Conference of Editorial Writers
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Title Annotation:humor in editorials
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Previous Article:Growing numbers, growing enthusiasm.
Next Article:I can teach any student to write opinion.

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