Editor's Corner: Opinion content is a double-edged sword of responsibility
August 23, 2012
It's been 12 years since I first sat behind a desk at the Cheney Free Press. I've covered a lot of issues, events and people since and thinking back, some things stick out.
One of those was a conversation I had once with former Cheney boys basketball head coach Dave Baird. The Blackhawks boys and girls teams had traveled to play Mount Spokane and as the boys were in the stands watching the girls' game some of them were reading copies of the latest Free Press issue they had brought along. Several Wildcat players joined them and Baird said they were amazed, and a bit envious, about the local coverage the Cheney players received.
I'm not tooting our horn. We know we don't cover all we should, sometimes mess up what we do and every so often make people mad in the process.
But sometimes I wonder if people on the West Plains realize how lucky they are, what a resource they possess in having a news publication specific to their communities. I fear sometimes people won't realize it until after the newspaper is gone. We're not in danger of this but one can never take continued publication for granted.
One area I think people are missing an opportunity with is the opinion page. I had a call from a reader last Friday who was upset about the column we published by Creators Syndicate writer Roger Simons. I'm afraid I was a little short with her at the time and I apologize for not being more receptive. Please chalk it up to having a bad day at the end of a rough week.
The reader was upset because she felt Simons was advancing lies as fact and that we shouldn't have published the piece because of this. She was concerned some readers would confuse opinion as fact.
I share that same concern. Opinion writing is an important part of newspapers. In fact maintaining an unfettered outlet for the expression of beliefs was probably more of the basis for the First Amendment's prohibition against restricting freedom of the press, the right to publish, than it was actual hard news.
Newspapers have always been the conduit for opinions from both editors and readers. That role has impacted our country's history and it's important it be maintained and practiced – by everyone.
But it does come with some responsibilities. On our side it's important that media outlets keep news and opinion separate, and not let one influence the other.
As readers, your responsibility is to employ healthy skepticism and seek other, hopefully neutral, sources on the same opinion topic.
It is also the responsibility of the reader to respond to an opinion whether you agree or disagree, and to express their opinions on news stories if they have an opinion or know something the writer of the news piece does not.
News is not a spectator sport, and this is where I feel Free Press readers are missing out. Most of the letters we receive are letters of community thanks or praise, and while important, they don't really instill a public dialogue about issues of the day, and to me, a public dialogue about our communities, our county, state and nation is needed.
There are too many editorial gasbags these days, present company included. So I encourage you readers to speak up about issues. I know you have opinions because we get calls, emails and read them in the pages of our daily brethren down the road.
It's not easy to put your opinion on display for all to see. I know, and I would ask for civility in response.
But it is important that your opinion be heard, now while you have the opportunity.