Russ Mitchell

The Mitchell Report

Russ Mitchell is editor of The Dickinson County News. He has been in Spirit Lake since January 2010 and began in journalism in 1997. The Mitchell Report can be about anything and everything. Comments are invited.

Let us help, in case you (R) confused

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

We hope you don't mind, but we'd like to reverse trends a bit and bring a little of the social media dialogue we see on Facebook back to the old-fashioned, black-and-white newspaper opinion page. Some comments we’ve seen recently raise a couple of issues that deserve some clarification.

On Aug. 30, we shared a letter from Phil Peterson of Okoboji on Facebook. Background is helpful here: Phil has told us he writes letters in support of President Trump as a response to Robert Sneitzer of Spirit Lake, who writes even more letters to the editor than Phil does. Mr. Sneitzer doesn't take an optimistic view of the current administration.

And, since Mr. Sneitzer has pointed things to say about our Commander in Chief, some of our readers on Facebook think we share the same view. A couple of the commenters seemed surprised that we would publish and share a letter from someone who supports President Trump.

“I love how most of the opinion pieces start off with ‘Opinion,’” Adam Stene wrote. “Then they get that letter that they don't agree with, and it's ‘one reader's opinion.’ They try to downplay that maybe they have some readers that don't hate President Trump.”

Mr. Stene was half right. We used to mark the opinion content “opinion” when we shared letters and columns on Facebook. We changed it to “one reader’s opinion” earlier this year.

"We recently started labeling letters 'one reader's opinion' because we're trying to clarify that letters are a reader's opinion, not the newspaper’s,” I told him. “Some people have been getting confused about that. Likewise, if a staff member here at the Dickinson County News writes a column, that is merely the opinion of the columnist, not the opinion of the entire newspaper or its staff. Any editorials we would write would need the approval of our publisher and they wouldn't have a name attached to them.”

Apparently we have more work to do because in the very same thread of comments at the end of the very same letter shared on Facebook, we heard from Brian Kunert Atwooki who wrote: “A pro Trump article from DCN? WTH?”

Sarcasm aside, I didn't like that Brian called Phil’s letter an “article.”

“Please see the DCN comment above in this post,” I responded. “People get confused. It is a letter. Letters are opinion pieces. Articles are news coverage. For example: The current edition of the newspaper has coverage of the GOP event with Sen. Ernst (R), Rep. King (R) and Gov. Reynolds (R). Another article is coverage of Sen. Grassley (R) visiting Spirit Lake. And yet another article features Gov. Reynolds during a visit to a growing business. Throw in the column by state Rep. John Wills (R) on the opinion page and it's really a stretch to paint the DCN as having a left agenda. There are a lot of voices out there and we try to let them all have their say.”

Please forgive the redundancy if you made it this far, but to sum up the two issues we mentioned near the start:

What is an article? What is a column? What is an editorial?

Articles are news coverage.

Columns are contributions from members of the DCN staff. Some elected officials have their regular updates presented in column format. Each of those columnists is entitled to his or her own opinion and the views do not necessarily reflect the views of the DCN as a whole.

Letters come from you, our readers. Our decision to print them is not an endorsement of the views expressed. They are only an endorsement of free speech.

Does the DCN have a liberal bias?

The group of individuals in the current Spirit Lake newsroom run the full political spectrum. You're reading a column by me, so this is my admittedly-moderate opinion: If opinion content seems to take a left-leaning tilt it’s because President Trump is not a conventional politician. In fact, that's what many people like about him.

But a side-effect of the President's approach to governing (and his outspoken nature) is that people are going to have a strong reaction. Democrats are in the minority in Dickinson County and northwest Iowa, but they aren't absent from the region. With a president like President Trump, we are going to hear from his opposition more — and that's going to shape the tone of the DCN opinion page a little more.

If you think the tone of the opinion page doesn't reflect the area as a whole, pull your chair up to a keyboard like Phil and Robert do. Newspapers shouldn't be one-way conversations. The opinion page is your chance to be heard.