The reaction to a column that concerned the election defeat of the standing sheriff in Emery County last week that appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of the Progress was swift and strong. During the week I fielded calls from many angry folks concerning that opinion piece.
So I thought a column concerning the opinion page and how it works might be in order.
But first I must commend the people of Emery County for their civil dialogue concerning the issue. I didn't have one phone call from anyone who yelled at me, or cursed me and with everyone I was able to talk to, we had what I considered to be a good conversation, despite the anger many of them felt.
In the end, I know I didn't satisfy everyones questions or concerns, but then the nature of the beast is such that those kinds of things don't always have a clear resolution.
So to the matter at hand; the opinion page or what is called "Commentary" in this paper. An opinion page is designed and designated to allow all kinds of opinions both majority and minority to be aired. Some of the opinions placed on those pages through letters or editorials do not always agree with the majority of readers. Usually at least some readers take issue with any editorial or letter that is published.
However the page needs to accommodate all perspectives. Since I design and put together the Sun Advocate's opinion page each week I am always seeing the various views of issues. I often print pieces I don't agree with, but that is the duty of a newspaper to do that, unless it designates itself to be one sided on an issue or concern.
If you look at the opinion pages in many papers, the staff written editorials do not have a name attached to them. They are authorless. By doing that, those opinions become that of the paper itself, because either an editorial board decided on the point of view or the paper takes the position that what their opinion page editor writes is their stand.
At neither the Progress or the Sun Advocate do we do that. I insist that all editorials, columns and letters have a name attached to them. In my world, our papers do not have an opinion at all, unless it is for the betterment of our communities. Opinions on everything from Obamacare to the elections in Emery County are relegated to the individual who is writing the piece.
Many people called to disagree with the column last week. Some were hurt, others angry, some say the editorial made them feel like the paper was trying to make the electorate of Emery County look stupid. Some had great distaste for the issues raised, others took issue with the fact that the present sheriff will have to face life without the job he has had for 36 years. Some were mad about the line "Emery County, what have you done?"
Looking at the vote totals, and the passionate calls we received concerning the column, it is obvious the author is in the minority concerning this subject. Some said to me that they could understand if this was printed in a letter from a citizen or in a guest editorial. Many said the editor of the local newspaper should never have written such a piece.
But would that be fair? Would that be right? Should free speech about a matter only be taken up by those who are not employed at a newspaper? Can't people who write in opinion pages as professionals have an opinion too, even if it is a point of view that some of the readership does not agree with?
In my experience, people often have a hard time discerning what is news and what is opinion. And that ability has gotten worse in these days of television networks such as FOX and CNBC, along with AM radio talk shows that portray themselves to be news and not opinion when one is really masquerading for the other.
We try in both papers to keep opinions out of the actual news stories and on the opinion page. That is not always easy, because we as writers often have opinions about things we see happening. But I tell my staff all the time to save it for the opinion page.
All views, that are not libelous or are not direct attacks on other people, should be aired in opinion pages. While many of you voiced your opinions on the phone, I think those that spoke to me and others should also say how they feel through letters to the editor. As long as they are civil and to the point, we will print them.
After all, just because you don't own the press, doesn't mean you don't have the right to be heard.