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Minnesota Opinion: Opinion journalism is critical to our communities

Newspapers get accused all the time. “Too liberal!” “Too conservative!” Calls and emails follow columns or political cartoons that are particularly partisan. Right-leaning readers like to complain about E.J. Dionne while the left-leaning go after Marc A. Thiessen, both Washington Post columnists’ pieces published regularly on the (West Central Tribune’s Opinion Page).

While news folks go to great efforts to make sure personal biases don’t influence their reporting, writing, or newsgathering (sorry, but there’s no newsroom conspiring to “spin” stories or “slant” coverage; there’d be no faster way to the Land of No Credibility), opinion pages are different. They’re filled with, well, opinions: Columns, letters, political cartoons, and editorials all take strong stands, sometimes reflecting the right and sometimes the left.

But that doesn’t make the newspaper liberal or conservative. Publishing a diversity of viewpoints means the newspaper is taking very seriously the critical role its opinion page can play in our community. Opinion pages are a forum for community conversation and for the civil yet robust dialogue, debate, and give-and-take all communities need to have. From many ideas come the best ideas. Ultimately, solutions to our shared problems can emerge.

So viewpoints from all sides get published. No submission is ever rejected just because it doesn’t agree with the newspaper’s stand, determined by the editorial board. Newspaper editorials are published to help lead the conversations for which we provide a forum and so others might be prompted to also weigh in.

The importance of opinion journalism was celebrated recently as part of National Columnists Day, a creation of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in memory of famed World War II columnist Ernie Pyle. Killed by Japanese machine-gun fire while covering the Okinawa campaign, Pyle won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1944. A year later, the movie, “G.I. Joe,” recounted his coverage of the Italian campaign.

“Ernie’s work is a reminder that sometimes we humble scribes can touch lives in special ways and a testimony to the power of good writing,” columnist Smiley Anders of The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., wrote earlier this month.

“Opinion journalism matters and should be understood as essential to a free press,” National Society of Newspaper Columnists Vice President Chandra Bozelko said this month in a note to newspaper opinion writers and editors.

So scream at us all you want. Whether we’re perceived as liberal, conservative, or something else, we remain committed to opinion journalism and to the important place it holds in our community. It deserves to be celebrated, supported, and respected — and not only on National Columnists Day.

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