In this brave new world of cyberspace, you see an awful lot of frank, brutally honest commentary being poured out there. Unfortunately, the most frank commentary tends to come from people who don’t leave their name, or who use an alias.
It’s so much easier to be outrageous and blunt when no one knows it’s actually YOU making the statements. I post under my real name, and I encourage all commenters on this site to use theirs as well. I respect opinions of people who agree with me, as well as those who disagree with me. I have MORE respect for you if you are brave enough to attach your real name to your comments.
Let’s take this subject, and change our focus to more traditional media — like newspapers. Steve Bouser is the longtime editorial page editor at our Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times-best selling, Nobel Prize-nominated thrice weekly local newspaper.
Steve likes to sign his name to feel-good feature columns. But he doesn’t sign his name to the main feature editorial on each edition’s op-ed page. Those editorials tend to take a hard left turn into Fidel Castro & Vladimir Lenin territory.
Apparently, Steve has been taking some hits in the public about the hard-left rhetoric in those unsigned editorials. He used his latest SIGNED column to stand up for WHOEVER actually writes those unsigned leftist screeds for The Pilot:
Web commenter Bentpan really let us have it the other day. Appending one of many comments to the end of The Pilot’s Friday editorial expressing opposition to Amendment One, Bentpan wrote: “I notice no one at The Pilot taking credit for this opinion piece. Don’t blame them. What a steaming pile of left-wing propaganda.”
The not-so-subtle implication here was that the pointy-headed person responsible for writing the editorial, which took issue with the idea of making same-sex marriage even more illegal than it already is in North Carolina, lacked the guts to come forward by name, opting instead to cower behind a cloak of anonymity.
I started to get down into the fray and post an explanatory reply, but another commenter, who goes by the handle Hembloche, saved me the trouble. After taking issue with the substance of Bentpan’s post, Hembloche added: “Oh, and editorials are never signed. It’s considered the official stance of the paper as a whole.”
Thanks, Hembloche. You got it exactly right.
I wrote about this general subject years ago in another Shoptalk column, but the above-mentioned Internet exchange – and the recently announced change of editors, with accompanying modification of job descriptions – prompts me to revisit the matter for purposes of clarification.
Three basic kinds of opinion writing appear regularly on these pages. First, there are letters from readers, which we always require to be signed, and which appear under the “Public Speaking” column like the one at the bottom of this page. Next are pieces such as this one. Readers often mistakenly refer to them as “editorials,” but they’re not. They’re columns. And they’re always signed.
Last but not least, we come to the pieces that run down the left side of this page and are set in larger type. These are indeed editorials. And editorials, in The Pilot and in virtually all other papers, speak in the name of the paper as opposed to some particular individual.
Editorials, as Hembloche noted, are always unsigned – not out of cowardice, but simply because they express institutional stands on the issues as opposed to personal ones. A few newspapers here and there have experimented with signed editorials, or at least initialed ones, but that has never caught on.
One reason editorials are anonymous is that they are often a consensus opinion arrived at through team effort. On rare occasions, one might even find himself writing an editorial making the best possible case for an argument that he personally disagrees with. Putting the writer’s name on that one would be especially meaningless.
I used to be in the driveby media. Our op-ed pages would regularly produce these unsigned editorials that were “reportedly” the view of the news staff. Funny, though — NO ONE ever polled me or any of my reporter colleagues about the subject matter of those editorials before they went to press. So, how can it really be claimed that it represents the view of the news staff? It’s the opinion of the guy — or gal — who wrote it. READ ON:
In roughly the first half of the 14 years I spent as editor of The Pilot, we had a full-time opinion editor, Brent Hackney. He edited columns, handled letters, and wrote most of the editorials – though we had regular informal editorial board meetings that included Publisher David Woronoff (who always has the ultimate say on such matters), Brent and me.
When Brent left, we decided not to replace him in that job. Instead, I absorbed most of those responsibilities. And, with a different editorial board and much help handling letters and laying out pages – and sometimes help writing editorials – I spent years being responsible for both the news and opinion sides. It got rather taxing sometimes, and I was frequently nagged by a feeling that I wasn’t always doing justice to either half of my job.
With the welcome advent of John Nagy as our new editor back in February, the responsibilities have been divided up differently. In my semi-retired, half-time status, I am responsible for the opinion pages only. In that capacity, I now compose almost all of the editorials – with a lot of very helpful subject-matter input from David, John and others.
John, freed from this direct responsibility, is able to focus more attention on our news coverage – and on things like our digital operation, which is a special strength of his. He, David and I also constitute a new editorial board that hashes out stands on issues. So far, I like to think this division of duties is working out well.
Anyway, there’s not a whole lot of point in demanding to know who is responsible for a particular editorial. As you can see, it’s a simple question with a complicated answer.
It’s ACTUALLY NOT THAT HARD, STEVE. If you were polling the news staff, and voting like the Supreme Court does, I could see your point. But these editorials are dreamed up in your head. What is in your head does not — believe it or not — constitute the majority opinion of the paper’s employees.
There is a simple solution to this, Steve. Several newspapers and magazines at the national level feature a byline like this:
— John Smith, for The Editors
The conservative Weekly Standard magazine is the one example that comes to mind. Why can’t you sign your editorials with “Steve Bouser, for The Editors” ? Scared?
It’s easy to tee off on people and institutions when no one knows it’s you doing it. You are peddling a steaming pile of Marxist crap on the editorial page three times a week to your dwindling pool of readers in one of the most conservative Republican counties in the state. Sign your name, and be prepared to get an earful from average folks who — ahem — disagree with you.
That’s the nice thing about The First Amendment that elitist leftist types like Steve hide behind. You’ve got the right to say what you wanted to say. You can dish it out — but be prepared to TAKE the return fire.