"While we like the idea of disbanding an editorial board (all newspapers should), there should be no problem with a news operation covering the news, investigating the principals, and commenting on them, as long as news and opinion are separate operations."
--Our editorial, Wednesday
Christmas came early this year. One of our most valued readers asked a question about an editorial. Which means somebody's reading the editorial column. And thinking about it.
And our friend thought enough to send us a modern note, by which we mean an email. We'd have preferred a written note in the snail mail, signed and stamped, but mama always told us to be polite about gifts.
After reading Wednesday's offering about Michael Bloomberg and his outfit Bloomberg News, our correspondent asked: What do we have against editorial boards? And do we not have one at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette? The email was a boon. We love talking about us.
Once upon a time--as all good stories start--American publishers ran newspapers themselves. And when they wanted to say something editorially, by gawd they did. And told it with the bark off. Those were the days. When publishers were brave and editors were free to write. And together they produced editorials that, right or wrong, at least took positions.
Then corporations got involved, and began running a lot of newspapers. Their worst contribution may have been to start calling newspapers The Product--an awful habit. But a close second was the creation of the editorial board.
Editorial boards are basically committees, producing committee reports. An editor/friend/legend around these parts once said that editorial boards have killed off more good ideas than the United Nations. He was right. Again.
Having some experience with editorial boards, trust us when we say they don't do a newspaper good. Imagine getting five to a dozen people in a room--or more--and ask them to come up with an editorial position on ... anything. Twelve people couldn't agree on what to have for lunch! ("Can we have something besides ice cream for dessert? I'm lactose intolerant.")
Some newspapers go out of their way to make sure there are all different kinds of folks on their editorial boards. That's because instead of trying to lead the community, they hope to reflect it. Another bad habit. So the MAGA publisher invites the leftist editor to join the board, and they in turn pack the board with people of all backgrounds and ages and political beliefs and religions and lactose tolerance levels--in the name of "diversity." Which is a big name in the newspaper business these days.
And after an hour of arguing about a topic, they produce a committee report designed to offend exactly nobody at all. And therefore say nothing at all. It's all the rage with editorial writers these days, without the emphasis on rage: produce 15 to 20 inches of copy but say nothing that might offend. Which is why so many American editorials read more like news analyses.
Can you imagine a dozen people with different political viewpoints putting out an editorial on, say, abortion or gun control or the road tax or God-and-man-and-law? Which is how you end up with an American editorial that says . . . abortion should be rare.
Abortion should be rare? Who could disagree with that? Planned Parenthood and the Baptist preacher down the street would say the same thing.
Or this golden oldie: "Those who commit a crime with a gun should be punished." But isn't that a bumper-sticker slogan for the NRA?
If truisms and platitudes are the only things allowed in modern editorials, and editorialists are as frightened as modern stand-up comics when it comes to offending the crowd, then what happens to the editorial column, not to mention humor? For the answer, see modern editorial pages.
It's hard to take a line, any line, if you have to write to reflect the opinions of a dozen people. Or, at some papers, 20. Besides, editorial writers shouldn't set out to compose editorials anyway, but instead say something. Which is another lesson passed on to us by that editor/friend/legend of Arkansas and Pulitzer fame. We, his unworthy heirs, struggle daily to live up to his guidance and follow his advice. It'd be doubly hard if there were a dozen bosses to please.
That's the short version of our aversion to the editorial board. On this long weekend, we are indebted to our friend for giving us a reason to explain.
Besides, as we've mentioned, we love talking about us.
Editorial on 11/30/2019
Print Headline: Committee reports