The Day – Is the age of newspaper opinions coming to an end?
I like to read and hear conflicting opinions.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. After 28 years as a journalist, interspersed with editing and bureaucratic work, I became editor-in-chief of The Day’s editorial page in 2007.
We are more informed citizens when we open up to diverse viewpoints. Considering a different opinion can prevent us from becoming smug, from thinking that we have all the answers. It can make a better policy.
But opinion, as found in daily newspapers and their digital versions, is in danger.
For two decades, with the exception of national publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, newspaper staff suffered deep cuts. Staff reductions have particularly affected opinion sections. The newspaper industry has had to cut costs because its business model has eroded. The Internet has diminished the advertising revenue that allowed newspapers to be sold and delivered at low prices, while redirecting the interests of a new generation of readers accustomed to obtaining information that they do not have to pay for.
Now the Gannett newspaper chain, which has around 250 publications including The Bulletin in Norwich, has ordered its regional newspapers to eliminate the daily editorial page which offers an editorial, various commentaries and letters to the editor. This had already happened in many Gannett journals, if not officially, at least effectively.
The company says it only responds to what readers want and the days of a traditional opinion page are over. Reader polls and forums, according to Gannett, show that readers don’t want to be fed opinions and find it difficult to distinguish between opinion and direct news, especially online. If people want opinions on a topic, there are plenty they can find on the internet, the company points out.
I could buy it if Gannett beefed up its reporting staff, but the reality is that in many of its newspapers the staff is so small that it cannot effectively cover the communities it is supposed to serve. And the cuts continue. A new gutting opinion is basically another cost saving measure.
It would be comforting to dismiss Gannett as an outlier, but rather it is part of a trend that will continue.
As an independent newspaper – a rare breed these days – The Day takes no corporate orders. But she is not immune to the major challenges the industry continues to face, nor the tough decisions that come with them.
When I first applied to work on The Day’s opinion pages in the early 2000s, the paper had three editors/opinion editors and an employee assisting them. It was an exceptional staff for a newspaper of our size. When The Day appointed me editor-in-chief of the editorial page in 2007, there were only two editors/editors. Long before I retired in September 2021, it was down to one person, me.
While The Day has yet to choose my replacement (editor Tim Cotter tells me the paper hasn’t found a suitable candidate), management is committed to continuing to provide input for seven days. on seven. I still write an occasional editorial, as do retired editor Lisa McGinley, who sits on the editorial board, and other contributors.
Over the years, the Day’s editorial voice, backed by strong reporting, has played an important role in public policy. Today’s editorials demanded and attracted federal action when safety protocols were ignored at the Millstone nuclear power plant in the 1990s. He led the charge in returning governance to elected mayors and the resulting accountability to New London. He has never ceased to hold officials accountable when they ignore the precepts of the Freedom of Information Act. More recently, he harangued Governor Ned Lamont to end his opposition to adequately funding the Procurement Standards Board, a key government watchdog.
The nation will be worse off for the loss of those editorial voices across the country.
Still, in the interest of considering other opinions, I recognize that Gannett makes some valid points. He claims that what remains of opinion in his papers will focus more on local voices, rather than reproducing in syndicated columns the national debates already airing on cable networks and in other forums. I have researched the local and national opinions of guest writers, with considerable success. More would be good.
Lucas Grundmeier, editor of Des Moines Register Opinion, said his newspaper Gannett in Iowa would only publish an opinion section on Thursdays and Sundays, but promised strong editorials these days and more emphasis. on local content. If you have to do with less, such an approach makes sense.
But eliminating opinion in our local papers would be a terrible mistake. It would only allow more of us to retreat to our ideological islands, unchallenged by those who hold a different opinion or who can expose the flaws in our arguments.
If you think you’ve got it all figured out, then you definitely haven’t.
Paul Choiniere is the former editor of The Day’s editorial page, now retired. You can reach him at [email protected]