The opinion page is yours, mine and ours
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Good day, and welcome to page four.
If you've not already done so, I recommend you turn to the front page of this fine publication (who are we kidding? You're most likely on your phone, so tap the back button and then hit the news tab). I say this only because, in recent weeks, I've been told both in writing and in person that this opinion page — page four — needs more work, specifically that it needs something to counter conservative Republican viewpoints.
Perhaps yes, perhaps no, but I don't believe the opinion section should ever become the sole focus of any publication.
We have a saying in our family of papers, "You get the best newspaper you pay for." That is to say, newspapers grow and write worthwhile content — emphasis on write rather than recite — when the communities on which they report are supporting them. When that's not the case, the opposite happens — the paper shrinks in pages if not in staff and some resort to simply reciting press releases rather than putting in the actual work of a journalist.
And when staff move on to brighter futures and greener pastures, we're happy for them, but it usually means the shuffling and sharing of duties, which is how I found myself in the 9-by-10 news editor's office we affectionately call the palatial estate. And, you see, before taking on the editor's chair earlier this year, I was under the delusion that I would somehow have the energy — both mental and physical — to oversee the entire news section and create both columns and cartoons for the opinion page without missing a step.
Unfortunately, it hasn't worked out that way.
Again, I direct you to the front page. You'll notice something each of the stories there has in common — my byline. I put in the time to create approximately twice as many stories now compared to when my company business card deemed me merely a staff writer (well, I'm still working through my last box of them, so they still say that, but you get the point). And on top of that, there's pages worth of community content that gets sent my way in need of editing and organizing each week. So, while I often produced weekly columns and occasional editorial cartoons — and my collection of comment section criticism would suggest those provided at least some degree of variety in opinion from the region's legislative columns — those tend to fall by they wayside nowadays. Often as a deadline nears, there comes a choice — I can either put the majority of my energy into telling the community's stories at the expense of expressing my own opinion on page four or vice versa.
I choose the former — I choose the community.
And that's what any good journalist would do. If you were to talk to anyone who has been at it for more than a couple years, I have no doubt they'll say they don't do it for the money. They'll more often say they do it because they love it and believe the work is important. So it is with the staff here, I assure you.
That's not to say I don't have opinions I'd like to express. I have scraps of columns on topics from the teaching of Critical Race Theory, to mask mandates and other issues. A majority of them get tossed in my computer's virtual trashcan before I can finish them – my creative juices simply run dry many weeks. I've got sketches of cartoons criticizing the Biden Administration that have never progressed beyond graphite on paper — from year-round ethanol sales to his son's business dealings and recently a number of ideas on the situation in Afghanistan that never even made it to holding a pencil in hand.
In short, I can't do it all, folks. No one can. That's why I need you.
I understand the importance of the opinion page as much as anyone. It's been part of this county's newspaper since the earliest days (and I'm such a geek that I saved a PDF of what is one of the earliest editorial cartoons to run in the Spirit Lake Beacon — 1872 if you're wondering). The opinion page provides a space for content that can't be strictly contained to the standards of the news section. It spurs discussion. It allows subjectivity in a publication of facts. It reserves a place for feelings and instinct between other pages which must confine themselves to the citation of credible sources.
It is the place for the community's voice.
And so dear readers, when next there comes a rumbling in your conscience which murmurs the admittedly-accurate criticism that the opinion page needs greater variety of opinion, consider lending your voice. Many in the digital age are bold enough to make comment from the safe, blue glow of their devices. Few are willing to ascribe their name to their thoughts and have it set in type and printed — archived for generations to come. But that's what makes for greater understanding. For the opinion page to serve its true purpose, we as a community need to be brave enough to speak, civil enough to listen and humble enough to admit we may be wrong.
As the news editor, I surely have a duty to do what I can to give the paper as much quality as I can, but page four is the community's — yours, mine and ours — so it falls to each of us to make it a success. It falls to each of us to read, write and learn.
So, if you feel so inclined dear reader, put pen to paper (well, finger to keyboard, but you know what I mean).