Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Complaints and questions

C: I am writing to question or at least bring attention to an apparent lack of consistency or communication within the O-R family. Does the O-R have an editorial board policy of seeking general public participation in editorial decisions or does it have a policy of seeking participation strictly from chosen special interests?

In two recent O-R endorsed publications, I noticed an apparent editorial inconsistency between the two because they show a contrasting policy of courting special interests yet masquerading as champions of fair play, ethics, and open journalism. To be specific, on May 14, 2008, the lead article on the Editorial page was titled: “State must boost Medicaid funding.” At the end of the first column a paragraph begins as follows: “PANPHA, a coalition formed by various providers of care for the elderly, has been sending representatives around the state to call attention to the problem. When they met the Observer-Reporter editorial board, they pointed out that Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman..."

This caught my attention as I remembered a past entry from the blog of the “Grumpy Old Editor” that was in stark contrast to what I just read on his editorial page. It took me awhile to find it, but I have paraphrased it below from his June 11, 2007, blog entry: “Someone wrote the other day and asked me if we have a program of public participation on our editorial board and allow representatives of the public to attend our editorial meetings to decide editorial opinion and news content. This person represented a special interest group that he believes does not get enough exposure in the media... Some newspapers do have such a program... That's not the case here... We are a business, not a public utility. Frankly, what we print in the newspaper is what our subscribers want to read and are willing to pay for. Our editorial opinions are that of the newspaper's owners and its editors, reached after thoughtful analysis and sometimes after heated debate... It's our feeling that readers should be exposed to the news and to a diversity of opinion - no matter how unpopular that news or view might be - so that they can form their own reasoned opinions. Making news selection an equal-opportunity process for special interests can only distort that exposure and hinder the process of reasoned thought.”

Do you see the inconsistency? We have one “special interest” asking for access to the editorial board and being denied, and we have one “special interest” asking for access and being not only welcomed but given public exposure... - J.L.

A: (I'll let Lou Florian, editor of the editorial page, answer this one...)

The comparison is between apples and oranges. The question Park
addressed was about allowing representatives of the public to attend
our editorial meetings to decide editorial opinion and news content and
he answered correctly that we do not allow such participation. However,
we will meet with groups, including government officials, who want to
make a case for their programs. Obviously, we don't have time to
accommodate everybody and we limit it to matters of public interest. We
do our decision-making, however, without them.

We also interview candidates for major public offices before
elections, but we don't let them decide whether we'll endorse them.

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