Somewhere, a group is gathered around a table at a cafe, restaurant or convenience store. They’re discussing the happenings of the day — not reporting the news in some objective way, but offering their own thoughts and opinions on what today’s news means to them.
As they speak, others lean in and listen, then offer their insight. The process helps everyone at the table better understand how the news affects them.
And, as long as that establishment continues to serve coffee, eggs and toast at a reasonable price, those folks will come back tomorrow and repeat the process.
Do they always agree with each other? No, but they’re having a dialogue, and are enlightened after hearing other points of view.
It should be the same with writing opinion pieces in newspapers. By design, editorials are not intended to report news or even to shove an opinion down a reader’s throat, but instead are meant to engage readers, open a conversation and create a better understanding of the goings-on in the community, the region and the world.
While letters still flow in and opinion columns still are being produced, many newspapers have seen a decrease in staff editorials. It has come after staff and space cuts reduced their ability to consistently churn them out, and in some cases, perhaps newspapers just don’t want the headache of writing opinions in today’s polarized political society.
That’s unfortunate, because today — perhaps more than ever — society could use more, not less, informed dialogue about the news.
With that in mind, Forum Communications Co. is embarking on a new initiative. It’s called the FCC Editorial Advisory Board, and it has a distinct mission: To invite dialogue, to support diverse ideologies and solicit smart, engaged opinions and viewpoints.
In essence, its goal is to elevate debate and discussion on important issues.
The inaugural members are:
- Patrick Springer, a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead;
- Joy Schoch, general manager of the Dickinson Press;
- Kirsten Stromsodt, executive editor of Forum Communications;
- Chris Blade, publisher of the Rochester Post Bulletin;
- Chuck Frederick, opinion editor of the Duluth News Tribune;
- Chelsey Perkins, community editor at the Brainerd Dispatch;
- Kelly Boldan, editor of the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minn.;
- Jeremy Fugleberg, Forum News Service news director for South Dakota;
- and me, Korrie Wenzel, publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business.
While the opinions will be discussed, shaped and outlined by the group as a whole, the actual writing of the pieces will be shared by a rotating schedule of experienced opinion writers: Boldan, Fugleberg, Frederick, Springer and Wenzel.
It’s probably the first time in Forum Communications Co. history that a companywide editorial board has been formed. It won’t be something that will be overdone — the schedule for now includes just one or two pieces per month.
At present, most newspapers in our company chain write occasional editorials, and a few still maintain regular editorial schedules. This board will be tasked with complementing the opinion offerings that already exist at each newspaper.
Other than a monthly editorial or column produced by the board, nothing else will change locally, since Forum Communications Co. rarely mandates any particular opinion pieces be published companywide. It happens now and then — especially with political endorsements — but not much otherwise.
This initiative is a good idea, and notable during today’s political climate.
Too often, readers suggest newspapers blatantly try to sway readers through their storytelling, disguising opinion as news. Scout’s honor: There is no such agenda here.
It used to be much worse. Newspapers a century ago cared little if their news pages were filled with opinion, since they were openly backed by (or at least fervently followed) one political party or another.
Eventually, opinion was pushed to a page or two within a newspaper, thus the term “op-ed,” which many people believe stands for “opinion and editorial” but it actually was the name for the page “opposite the editorial page.” It’s where reader-submitted opinion material was placed back when there was more than one opinion page per edition.
In recent years, opinion on TV and on the internet has increased, but organized newspaper opinion writing has decreased for one reason or another. Hopefully, our company’s new initiative can reinvigorate it somewhat, and especially on a regional scale.
Again, this won’t affect how your local newspaper reports on, or editorializes about, local issues. It’s simply an initiative to promote dialogue and conversation on regional or statewide issues that affect many of the readers within our company’s footprint.
We don’t want to be loud about it, but instead want to offer critiques, comments, analysis or advice in a way that will promote discourse and discussion.
And maybe we all will come away with a better understanding of important issues.
Korrie Wenzel is publisher of the Grand Forks Herald and Prairie Business.