Here’s what I think a Community and Commentary section — the one you’re holding in your hand — should be and the direction it’s growing:
1. The Community and Commentary pages emphasize opinions and contributions by staff members and the public.
2. The label “community” implies content that provides a local flavor — which isn’t necessarily news or opinion.
3. The label “commentary” or anything with a column “logo” or marked as a “letter” indicates that the opinions expressed are the opinions of the author.
4. We don’t run editorials in the traditional sense. We won’t hide behind the editorial “we.” The editor’s opinions are the editor’s opinions and not necessarily those of others on the newspaper. The belief that any editorial is an expression of the newspaper is a myth. Newspapers are inanimate objects and can’t have opinions. The only way to make that claim is to take a vote and I’ve never been on a newspaper where people can agree on much of anything. The fact is that on most newspapers the “editorial” is actually developed by an elite group of people who answer to someone else who has the final say anyway.
5. I believe the prime job of a newspaper is to show both sides of an issue and let the reader decide. That doesn’t mean I won’t have opinions, but I’ll try to present them in such a way that the reader can see the other side as well. It was something I learned in debate — in order to make your point effectively you need to truly understand the other perspective. This deviation from the hyper aggressive editorials some people savor is a growing trend in newspapers. It’s also a reflection of the editor’s less-than hyper aggressive personality. On the other hand, the editor — that would be me — reserves the right to foam at the mouth should the occasion warrant it. Strong opinions nourish a newspaper and sometimes I’ve been remiss in not having more of them; I’ll try to do better.
6. We won’t run anonymous opinions or letters to the editor. You should have the courage of your convictions. Each letter needs to be signed and a city address included. We also need a phone number or email address in case we need to verify the letter or ask questions, but that information won’t appear in the paper. In general, we only run letters written by people with local connections.
7. Yes, we run some opinions that may be deemed as crazy. It’s been my experience that crazy ideas die faster when they’re shown in the light of day. If the expression of those ideas is resisted, then the teller of those tales enjoys martyrdom. And, there’s always a chance, they may be right. After all, the idea that the world was an orb circling around the sun was once considered insane.
8. We don’t have special rules regarding word limits or numbers of times someone can contribute. The editor reserves the right to make such decisions on a case-by-case basis. Some of our contributions run overly long and it’s my hope to edit them more this year.
9. We’ll try not to run libelous statements in letters or, we hope, anywhere else. You may think it’s the truth, but we need facts to back it up. And, in a lawsuit, the paper is as financially responsible as you are. We don’t have time to verify every opinion you may have. We make such choices based on their news value and the practicality of verification.
9. There is more leeway with commentary on public officials or public figures. For the most part, they’re not subject to traditional libel laws and criticisms come with the territory. Like everything else in the paper, we reserve the right to edit out particularly venomous or tasteless comments.
10. We resist writing editor’s notes on letters to the editor. The writer should get the final say in their letter. Again, we reserve that right but don’t plan to use it. We also reserve the right to disagree with the writer but in a separate forum. Excluding changes for style, grammar, spelling or obvious “mistakes’ we won’t change the content of a letter without contacting the author.
11. We encourage criticisms of the newspaper. They make for good reading.
Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.