Saturday, December 24, 2011

Yes, Virginia, there may be no more editorials

[The New York Sun's famous 1897 Christmas editorial]

Following is an excerpt of Anonymous@12:12 p.m.'s comment, posted this afternoon:

"Another day, another issue of The Cincinnati Enquirer and another day without a staff-written editorial. Is there nothing going on in this city of almost 2 million that the city's only daily newspaper should be weighing in on? Aren't there some pretty suspicious bills lining up for consideration by the Ohio General Assembly? Isn't there a Fortune 500 company that's reneging on a $50 million economic development deal? For a major daily newspaper to go nearly a full week without speaking out on something is a waste of its First Amendment right."

Counting editorials
A full week without an editorial sounded hard to believe, so I went to the Enquirer's website. Searching for editorials, I discovered that 12:12 is wrong.

The last time it published an editorial online was actually 11 days ago.

Now, a caveat: I was only able to count those online editorials that were labeled as such. It's possible Cincinnati hasn't been archiving all its print editorials on its website.

Checking other larger-circulation Gannett newspapers, I found numbers that were all across the map, reflecting differing archiving policies. (See table, below. Bigger view.) I counted only those editorials that were clearly institutional opinion -- that is, the voice of the editorial board, as opposed to an individual op-ed article.

Not surprisingly, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., had the most online: 44. The paper has a long, long tradition of aggressive public-service journalism, reflected in its string of Pulitzer Prizes -- at least 10 in all.

The Arizona Republic in Phoenix carried the fewest: only two, both dated today. No matter how I searched, I couldn't find an archive of past editorials, reflecting the low profile the paper gives to its institutional voice. You've got to look very, very hard to find a link to editorials on the homepage.

End of editorial line? 
Corporate says on its website that its commitment to watchdog journalism is as strong as ever. "Gannett is second to none as a champion of the First Amendment," it says.

But I suspect many publishers would be happy to say goodbye to their editorial pages -- in print and online. Inevitably, institutional opinion pieces -- good ones, anyway -- offend some segment of the public.

This is particularly true during election season, when papers endorse candidates. The Des Moines Register, in one of the most influential election states, last Sunday endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. Some Gannett Bloggers were dismayed.

What's your opinion? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write jimhopkins[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the rail, upper right.


  1. Corporate says: "Gannett is second to none as a champion of the First Amendment."

    That is 100% hyperbole.

  2. Jim, I think you mean "110% hyperbole."

  3. Does anyone actually care what someone at a paper thinks?

  4. Yep we should utilize standards set 100 years ago. In the last 30 years no one cares what a newspaper editorial says other than the self important souls who write them. The worlhausa changed, it's time we did too.

  5. Best example I know of would be the 2010 Florida Gubernatorial race. The largest 13 papers in the state all endorsed the Democrat.

    She lost to the Republican, Rick Scott.

    Perhaps if the editorial bored's had some Tea Party representation, instead of the typical far-left liberalism, readers might have listened?

    Left, left-of-center, and far left does not constitute diversity of opinion, in my view. Judging from falling circulation numbers, thousands of others agree.

  6. It's bad enough that the Enquirer has retreated from coverage of most local government. How can it be a watchdog when it either has NO reporters keeping close tabs on city and county officials or has WEAK reporters on those beats? But to have NOTHING to say editorially on ANYTHING for 11 days is an absolute disgrace and a waste of a printing press. Didn't John Boehner, whose hometown is one of the Enquirer's target communities, just try to throw the middle class -- the Enquirer's core readers -- over a cliff by withholding support for the tax cut and unemployment benefits extension until his own party told him to back down? Where was the Enquirer on THAT fiasco?

  7. I found this post rather odd. In Wilmington, where I work, there is an editorial every day. sometimes it's a single longer piece, sometimes two short ones. There are now two editorial page editors remaining (down from four), and they have to edit, paginate and fill two pages (though often more like 1 1/2 with ads) every day of the year. The idea of going a day without an editorial is unimaginable.

  8. Jim, the Arizona Republic does run editorials, even though you can't find them. The Republic's failing is a different one: Too often, its editorials fail to take a position on an issue. Instead, the editorials lazily review a controversy and say something lame about how it remains to be seen how it will turn out. So much for being a watchdog, or a community leader.

  9. How about more reporting and less editorials? If the editorial writers can't blog daily about their opinions like they want beat reporters to do (and a lot are doing), why should the paper have them on staff? Pretty expensive. More watchdog reporting, less pontificating. That will get more respect and readers.

  10. Jim, your choice of headline for this thread was psychic: Today's lone editorial in today's Cincinnati Enquirer was headed, "Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia." But it's not a new editorial. It was written and printed in the Enquirer in 2004! So instead of 12 days of Christmas, we have 12 days of Enquirers without editorials. What else was on the page? The New York Sun's original "Yes, Virginia..." editorial -- from 1897. Letters to the editor and syndicated columns from Walter Williams, Kathleen Parker and George Will. The Enquirer hasn't had a regular columnist since Tom Callinan sacked every last one of them. No sign of reversing that from Washburn. All we get are occasional masturbatory offerings from Buchanan and Washburn.

  11. 2:06 Sigh. The sheer lameness of Gannett's technology continues to amaze me.

    It's now clear the Enquirer can't properly archive its editorials online. And I'm sure it's not the only GCI paper and broadcast station with this problem.

    Today's recycled, "Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia," doesn't appear under the main editorials link -- one I used to compile a list of recent editorials in the post, above.

    Yet, from this page, I now see a more complete list of editorials, including one that doesn't appear in the main editorial section I searched yesterday: One dated Dec. 17. So, Anonymous@12:12 was, perhaps, correct: The last staff-written editorial was a week ago -- not 11 days ago.

    Some questions:
    1. Why doesn't Gannett's publishing system automatically archive all content that appears in print?
    2. Will the new CCI NewsGate publishing software fix this?

  12. I think editorial boards are an anachronism and pretty much irrelevant, despite the space we devote to their ad nauseum opinions which no one reads. (For starters, you often can't even tell what the subject is because the headline is only two or three words. Who has time to read five paragraphs before even deciding if this is about something that interests them?)

    My prediction is that the newsroom dinosaurs who populate editorial boards will not be replaced upon retiring or being laid off, and that wouldn't be a bad thing if it meant more resources for the newsroom to do what's important.

  13. The best newspapers see fit to have erudite editorial writers who can use the power of the language to influence policy and policymakers and to remind government and corporations that they are being watched and are accountable to the people. Those papers who drifted into namby-pamby-land ("We trust City Council will do the right thing") gave up their First Amendment rights and are barely more than transcribers of public events and channels for press releases. The best newspapers are run by people who understand their Constitutionally protected duties, not by people who are beholden to corporate brainwashing and profit margins.

  14. No editorial today in the Enquirer.

  15. Thanks for researching this, Jim. It is (was) a public responsibility that news organizations are quickly abdicating amid job cuts and a desire not to offend anyone. Sad. But I agree with 9:31 in that if they're not done well, you may as well forget them.


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