As an editorial page junkie, at breakfast I read the editorial pages of the Gazette-Times, The Oregonian, and the Wall Street Journal, in that order. Later, I scrutinize the editorials, op-eds, and letters-to-the-editor in the on-line New York Times and the Daily Telegram from
Editorial pages are not just something I read. About 35 years ago I started writing op-ed pieces that have appeared from time to time in a number of states including
After all this reading and writing, I can’t help having ideas about what makes for a good editorial page and how existing pages could be improved.
Editorials (especially, I think, in the bigger newspapers) often pontificate about matters which the writers have not thought long and deeply about and about which they may not be well-informed. Of course we need to recognize that no one person can know everything about everything, and editorial writers are merely human. And our evaluation of an editorial should not just be based on whether we agree with it or not. But the fact that editorials are usually unsigned and tend to speak with a royal “we” (“we think that . . .”) gives them a level of sanctity which is often undeserved. Then most papers place strict word limits on letters or op-ed columns seeking to express disagreement with such editorials. (The Gazette-Times is unusually generous in its word limits.)
It seems to me that most editorials should therefore be written in the form of questions rather than of assertions. Although editors cannot be experts on everything, they should be able to identify important issues and write thought-provoking editorials pointing out some of the dimensions of those issues and noting some of the questions that must be answered in determining what to do about them.
A city like
The subject matter of these editorials and resulting letters and columns, while not neglecting local issues, should also include national and world issues. These always have local ramifications. Medical insurance policy, for example, is a national issue with a major impact on everyone here in
If I were an editor, therefore, I would write mostly question-mark editorials and minimize publication of in-house or nationally syndicated op-ed columnists (who have to say something several times a week whether or not they have anything to say). This would maximize the space for thoughtful letters and locally-written op-ed columns by the largest variety of knowledgeable people possible.
And I would run occasional free seminars to help these people write better letters and op-ed columns.