D.R.: The pontiff for a pundit
Some sage critics have suggested that newspaper editors should not sully their high positions by being “personal” in their punditry. A couple insist that a newspaper should not express opinion at all.
One of those critics really is a sage, and I can see the wisdom he’s trying to get across, if a bit old-world.
Others I take as absurd. A newspaper is not supposed to weigh in with its opinions in its opinion section? Let’s be sure and explain that to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and every other newspaper in America aside from the handful of wraps that have neutered themselves in some politically correct bid to not offend anyone, ever. (So they are not read, either.)
The criticism largely is code for we don’t like these views and wish you would not express them. Or, if you must, please don’t do it quite so plainly.
In this case, the critics are responding to my blog entries about the ridiculous reasons for recalling Eagle County Commissioner Arn Menconi. I might not say it quite like that in a house editorial or even in my print column. Tone does differ among the forums.
Presumably it’s OK with these critics to disagree with the effort in some sort of high-toned, pontifical way. The timing’s not right. The best of the reasons are still weak straws to call an election over.
Just don’t call the recall organizers out directly about twisting the facts to try to enhance their quest. Even if that’s plainly what they are doing.
A couple of critics have suggested some variant of this: Look, we know these folks are nutty. We get it. Why do you have to go there with them? You are taking this too personally.
It’s good advice. I appreciate the concern. I just disagree with the premise.
Newspapers once wrote pretty much everything at arm’s length from the reader. Somehow they found stature in being pontifical. Important. Oh so serious. All that.
Never mind that they were also hopelessly boring and truly full of themselves, too. That didn’t matter so much until TV came along. That’s about when newspaper readership began its annual decline nationally, which outside of our cozy valley continues today.
TV. Cable TV. Lots and lots of magazines. The Web. And that damnable arm’s length approach to news coverage that has persisted among so much of my favorite medium. If anything we’re still too stuffy.
Papers need to be personal. The more personal the better. Another word for that is relevant. Not relevant to the officialdom and earnest community leaders and institutions bent on their various missions. I mean in-the-gut relevant to the far greater multitude of people who pick up the paper, look at the pictures, peruse the stories, scan the ads and get real information they can use. Never mind how much money a government can raise and what it can do. How about how much it will cost us, and what we’ll get from that?
Yes, I know that’s not the “personal” my critics are getting at. They are expressing concern about the author getting caught up personally and losing that top-of-the-tree perspective.
I’m fine with trading reasonable argument for reasonable argument. I love those debates. That’s the bread and butter of the punditry we run in the paper ” from us and community columnists.
Where I break from the nose-holding and scholarly exchanges of ideas is when people deliberately fib, exaggerate, cheat or drop in some clever innuendo to enhance their position.
I’m no pontiff to begin with, and never have been. No doubt, I’m way too pugnacious with people who go below the belt to get their way. If it’s “personal” to call them out directly, OK, I’ll be personal.
But they should be called out. There’s no reason to dance with them as if they were being reasonable. They’ve violated a sacred trust among people and do not deserve the respect of equals debating issues honestly. That’s the real harm to a community ” not whether we disagree over issues or even politicians. We’re supposed to disagree over our complicated and difficult issues. Just be fair and honest about it, and don’t make stuff up to get an edge.
My canvas for punditry ” a far different discipline than the news reporting for the news pages done by others ” comes in three forms:
” The house editorial, which is the paper’s view on a subject. The tone is “we,” and while sometimes sharp, it is considered.
” Personal column. That’s me speaking for myself, just as Butch Mazzuca, Richard Carnes, Heather Lemon, Muhammad Ali Hasan, Ryan Sutter and the others express their unique views. We call it “My View.” No need to beat around the bush about that.
” And this forum, the blog. By its very nature, it’s informal, diary-like. Here I sketch, muse, rant, express what’s on my mind plainly ” as some 60 million or more bloggers do. Here I’m not some highfalutin’, full-of-himself editor posing as the Pontiff of Print. I’m just one of 60 million or more people who post blog entries. The old-worlders don’t get this, and I don’t expect them to. But the whole point is to be personal.
Blogs do not run in print, and the readership is more, ah, select as a result. I don’t think the critics have fully understood that, either, judging by some of the criticism. I’ve only written about the Menconi recall drive twice in print to this point. I don’t believe it’s that big of an issue, yet, for the print side.
And while everything I write has always been “personal” ” for over 20 years now ” it’s more raw in the blog. As it should be.
Don Rogers is responsible for the editorial oversight of the Vail Daily, Eagle Valley Enterprise and Vail Trail. He can be reached at 748-2920, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOG