Shoptalk: Who Wrote That *#!@% Editorial?
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.
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.
Steve Bouser is opinion editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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