People read too much into things sometimes.
Yes, opinions lately from folks in the community seem stuck on the idea of possible changes at the Times-News as a result of our new owners, who took over on July 1. The ones long-tired of our Freedom Communications-based libertarian slant on the opinion pages were hoping for something radically different. Others who liked that format are hoping we stay exactly the same.
And more than a few have written to say they like our changes so far. Note the word “changes.”
Here’s an example:
I wanted you to know how pleased I am with the changes at The Times News under its new ownership. The editorial pages seem more balanced (although the majority of columnists still expose a strong conservative viewpoint), and the news pages seem free of bias that I felt was creeping in via choice of stories and headlines under the old ownership. Well done. Please convey my gratitude and appreciation to whoever else is involved, one wrote.
I found the July 18 editorial, “Washington edges toward fiscal cliff,” of higher quality than usual. Might this be the result of the new ownership? I hope so,
My apologies in advance but ahem, there really aren’t any changes. At least none to truly speak of.
Our new owners, Halifax Media, aren’t political — at least not in the way our previous owners were when it concerned the opinion pages. So far there are no mandates for our opinion pages by Halifax and I’m not expecting any. Our news coverage was never watched by Freedom at all — only the editorials. In fact, Freedom went out of its way not to interfere with news coverage. I expect Halifax to maintain a similar hands-off approach to how we cover news here in Alamance County. It’s always my goal in our news coverage to play it as straight as possible. We have made no staff changes and our procedures remain exactly the same as before.
The most visible changes on the opinion page is in our lineup of syndicated columns. I replaced Walter Williams with Thomas Sowell. Both write about similar subjects and have similar conservative points of view. But I had come to think that Williams is stale and that Sowell is the superior writer. I also jettisoned John Stossel, our only libertarian columnist. I’m not a fan of Stossel’s writing. I think he comes across much better on TV, which is his true medium of expertise.
I have not replaced Stossel as yet. I may use a consortium of submissions from the McClatchy Tribune Forum, which covers a wide variety of subjects — not just politics and the economy. What I have done since arriving here in 2007, is try to strike a better balance of syndicated columns that touch upon a wider variety of subjects. I’m also considering Charles Krauthammer, who is distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group. I had more than a few readers request we add his column. I’m considering it.
Fortunately, I have received quite a few guest columns and letters from readers over the past couple of months. I would actually rather publish those about local or state subjects than more spin about the presidential campaign — a subject that’s covered well beyond what common sense should allow.
And covered poorly I might add. So many stories and columns about absolutely nothing.
We do still receive editorials from North Carolina newspapers formerly with Freedom — those in Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston, Gastonia and Shelby. Our daily editorials are either written locally, taken from our sister newspapers in North Carolina or obtained via our wire service. Sometimes I’ll take an editorial on a national subject from the Chicago Tribune or L.A. Times and alter them to fit our format. Or often I’ll combine two or three editorials and work them into one that meets what our management believes the Times-News opinion should be about a particular subject. An example is today’s edit about Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate. There is one change in the editorials we publish. We no longer have access to editorials from the Orange County Register — the flagship of our former company and where nearly all of our hardcore libertarian opinion pieces were written. I depended upon the Register for our corporate policy and tthought about national issues for the past several years.
Believe me, I’m not qualified to write about health care reform or the economy and won’t try to do so. I do write editorials about local issues. But it’s difficult for me to write about something I don’t personally believe in. I do my damnedest to produce what best fits the newspaper’s goals. It’s not always easy to find subjects I can write about comfortably.
Because I’m not an ideologue, policy wonk or even someone who has a passing interest in national politics, I’m probably the last person to determine the editorial stance of a newspaper. After the sale, I asked our publisher Paul Mauney how he wanted our editorial opinions presented.
“Don’t change anything,” he advised.
And I haven’t. The newspaper’s basic view won’t be altered.
I also asked that we perhaps establish an actual editorial board in order to reach a conclusion about what the newspaper’s editorial views are on particular subjects or issues. Doing so is in the works and should include people not only from the newsroom but other departments.
Bottom line: The newspaper is not a toy that one person should stamp with a personal opinion. It should be more of a work in progress determined by many that not only guides a community but reflects it as well.