September 19, 2010

Richard L. Connor: Remembering E.B. White's sage advice

I have failed my writing hero, E.B. White, whose guiding principle, outlined in the classic "Elements of Style," was: "Omit needless words."

If I'd followed that rule last week, I would have responded to criticism of our newspaper on 9/11 with this:

"Our coverage of the conclusion of the local Ramadan observance was excellent and we are proud of it. We did not adequately cover 9/11 on the 9/11 anniversary, which also should have been front-page news, in my opinion."

Why would I have omitted the other words in last week's column?

Their lack of precision led to mischaracterization and misunderstanding. They were used to prove the maxim that a lie travels faster than truth. Mostly they allowed those with a personal ax to grind or a political agenda to advance to twist and misinterpret.

I meant to apologize for what we did not print -- front-page coverage of 9/11 on the anniversary of a day that stirs deep and unhealed wounds. I was in no way apologizing for what we did print in a deservedly prominent position -- a striking photo of our local Muslim community in prayer.

Externally, the controversy allowed many readers to express themselves and, yes, vent. Internally, the issue has allowed our staff to re-examine how we define news and how we play it. Our intention is to be fair every day.

There have been no mass subscription cancellations of our newspapers, but there have been many opinions, delivered to us online, via e-mail and written letters. They have been almost equally divided on opinion about our coverage and what I wrote.

Last Thursday's newspaper, which can be accessed online, carries a sampling of letters to the editor on the subject. This sampling is representative of all the opinions we received, and you will see that these views are almost equally split on the issues.

Following is a link to Thursday's opinion pages on the topic of Sept. 11 coverage:

Richard L. Connor,

Editor and Publisher


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