Thursday, April 24, 2014
An editorial should never be the work of one person, even if there is only one set of fingers at a time on the keyboard. That's why we don't sign the editorials we write and why we use the pronoun "we."
Once in a while, it makes sense to tell just who that "we" is.
Assistant Editorial Page Editor Sarah Collins has been on the job for the last month, and we have been working side by side, discussing topics, shaping arguments and crafting the positions that appear under the heading "Our View."
She writes editorials, but a newspaper's opinion page is more than just the place where editorials appear, and Collins' job is more than just discussing issues or writing about them.
She has a special responsibility of engaging readers and helping them bring their views to public attention.
That means working with letter writers and reader/columnists who contribute to Maine Voices, and looking for new ways to use communications technology to provide a place for our readers to interact both with us and with each other.
ROOM FOR EVERY VIEW
Collins calls the opinion page "a bridge between the newsroom and the community," and notes, "Everyone who reads us -- subscribers, activists, elected officials, policymakers -- has a perspective on the news that deserves to be presented in as accessible and respectful a manner as possible.
"I enjoy interacting with readers when I have questions about their letters or columns," she says, "and I try to maintain the integrity of their voice when I need to make changes in their copy."
This is important work. The days when newspapers could assemble editorial staffs with enough diversity in ideology and expertise to represent the entire community are long gone, if they ever really existed. We will never write anything that everyone will agree with, but we can still offer an opportunity for every voice to be heard.
In the Internet era, these pages, either in print or online, are one of the few places in America where people who disagree with each other actually bump into each other.
Most of the time, most of us surround ourselves with people who think like we do, and we read the commentary and watch the news shows that reinforce our point of view.
That's why it's amazing that over the last few years, when everything at newspapers seemed to shrinking, our mail bag has gotten heavier.
Even with so many ways that people can now publish their opinions (and publish them anonymously), people still want to write letters to the editor, which require them to meet standards for length and civility and put their names and hometowns at the bottom. That tells me that people want to communicate with each other and see this forum as a place to do it.
Collins comes to this job with solid qualifications.
After launching her journalism career as a reporter at weekly papers in western and midcoast Maine, for more than 15 years she has worked as a copy editor, at the Portland Press Herald and its sister paper (and before that, at the Kennebec Journal in Augusta), polishing and presenting the work of dozens of reporters all over Maine.
Copy editors are a special breed. They work at night. They come in as the bosses are leaving and they have to clean up the mess that the dayside left them. They are the ones who make the late-night calls that make reporters cringe ("Did you really mean to say that he's a 'soccer couch'?") but save them from public humiliation the next day.
The copy editors also read every line of every story in the paper every night and know more about what's going on than most people.
They may not get their names on the stories, but they make them better, and readers benefit, even if they don't notice it.
BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE
Other changes to the opinion pages over the last year probably have been noticed.
On alternate Sundays we have commentary from our two political analysts, Republican Dan Demeritt and Democrat Michael Cuzzi.
They have been joined in Thursday's Press Herald by Alan Caron, a longtime activist who looks at Maine policy from an independent perspective, and every other Saturday by Mike Tipping, a blogger, self-described "political junkie" and communications director for the progressive Maine People's Alliance.
Telegram readers have also seen the work of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Rohde, a Maine native who writes commentary on national and international issues, based on his many years as a foreign correspondent.
And Barney Frank, who was known from his years in the U.S. House of Representatives for his sharp tongue and quick wit, is also writing a weekly column for us, now that he's retired and living, at least part of the time, in Maine.
We will keep looking for good writers to add insight and perspective on the news, in addition to writing about the issues that we think are important.
But we won't forget that these pages would not be half as interesting or fun to read without the contributions from our readers. So look forward to more of that.
Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at: