The Opinion section in these papers is just two pages out of more than two dozen, but we hear an outsize amount of consternation from what appears here. So here’s a rundown of what this section does.
My regular columnists are the meat and potatoes of the section — regular folks who get paid between zero and $15 per column to engage with the city and the world from their perspective and invite the rest of us to do the same. I have them on a schedule, but they don’t plan or coordinate with me about their topics, and I don’t tell them what to say. It’s a surprise every week.
I fact-check them, though, and drive some of them a little crazy with my continual demands for sources of figures or historical tidbits they use. If their outside information is debatable, contested or otherwise more difficult to check, I want to at least include a citation for it. The regular columnists have a special seat in this forum, so I hold them to some standards.
Then there are the guest columnists — public figures and officials, columnists from other Southwest News Media papers and any others who have occasional, longer stories and thoughts to share.
Guest columns might appear outside of the Opinion section, such as Stan Tekiela’s dispatches from the outdoors, but they all have the writers’ face photos and names prominently displayed, keeping them distinct from regular news articles.
We run editorial cartoons from Dave Granlund, a nationally syndicated cartoonist with whom my bosses and bosses’ bosses signed up long before I came around. His is just one more opinion in the mix in a format that livens up the page.
The important piece of this is that none of these contributors are speaking for me or for Southwest News Media, no matter how sure some angry callers have been otherwise. There’s no way to hold all of these contradictory and mixed opinions at once. I don’t even do the kind of editorials you might see in larger papers that actually do take positions on things. I just write about how we work.
Finally, there are the letters to the editor from readers like you. I do some light fact-checking here; we can’t repeat libel, for instance, and I try to avoid spreading blatant misinformation, whether it’s about the Mueller report or President Donald Trump. But I keep views and opinions intact, run the changes or suggestions by the writer for approval, and let religious beliefs and other non-checkable things be.
Here’s one big takeaway: I don’t turn anyone away just because I don’t agree with them. I could count on one hand the columns and letters from local residents that I’ve rejected, usually because they wouldn’t meet some basic requirement like the maximum word count or a local address.
When people get particularly mad with me in writing, sometimes they say they doubt I’ll publish criticism of myself. I’m happy to meet that challenge every time. Being a journalist — reporter or editor — to me means getting outside of my personal opinions and letting people speak for themselves. The Opinion section is an obvious extension of that principle.
Here’s another big takeaway: The Opinion section is self-correcting. If you hate what you see or don’t see your perspective at all, you can fix it. Simply write in a letter, or even a column. Few take the offer, but I’ll take new columnists at any time. You can also write in if you love what you see, too; please do.