As the general manager of the newspaper, one of my roles is to help establish an editorial “voice” for the newspaper.
As such, I get to meet with members of our editorial board to discuss specific issues, work with the editor and others in writing and approving editorials representing the opinions of the newspaper, and have a say in the selection of columnists and cartoonists for our opinion pages.
With that in mind, you’d think I would agree with everything we publish on our opinion pages every day.
But I don’t. And I’m not supposed to.
One of the most frequent criticisms we receive from readers is that the perspectives published on our opinion pages are “too —.” A lot of words fit in that blank. Some think our opinion pages are too liberal. Some think they are too conservative. Some think they are too cynical. Some think they are too gullible. Some think they are too ignorant. Some think they are too erudite. Some think they are too red. Some think they are too blue.
And sometimes they all are right.
The opinion pages for The Times, as with many newspapers, are designed to offer a wide variety of different informed perspectives and opinions on the news. The goal for our opinion pages is to provide a forum for thoughtful ideas which hopefully can be the basis for intelligent debate and discussion. We don’t try to cater to one particular political philosophy or another, but rather look for commentary that is based on knowledgeable perspectives.
That said, we make every attempt to avoid those commentaries from the furthest extremes on either side of the political spectrum, preferring instead to offer moderate, modulated content that can serve as fodder for intelligent dialogue rather than as a lightning rod for controversy.
For the most part, our columnists are media professionals from both ends of the political spectrum with many years of experience who have access to information that we don’t have, and many years of experience observing the national political scene. Most of them offer a moderately conservative viewpoint.
But they don’t all think the same thing. Same with political cartoonists. Of all the complaints we get about the opinion pages, more are directed toward cartoons than anything else. Simple political drawings have a way of inciting heated passions with many people, who are quick to let us know they disagree with the artist’s perspective.
Again though, we offer cartoonists whose positions run the gamut of the political spectrum. They aren’t all conservative; they aren’t all liberal. As a newspaper we don’t necessarily agree with them all, but we don’t want the community conversation sparked by our editorial pages to be one-sided, so we offer a variety of thoughts and ideas.
Where you can find the newspaper’s position on issues is in the institutional editorials that we publish each Sunday, and occasionally on other days of the week. There, we try to add our voice to the mix, letting you know how we feel about certain issues as managers of the local paper.
We also offer a place for your voice to be heard, in our letters to the editor section. There, we welcome your thoughts and ideas, whether we agree with them or not, as long as they are presented in a civil manner and meet some very basic guidelines related to content and length.
So why do we publish opinions with which we don’t agree? Because that’s the only way to expand our thinking and learn. If all we ever read is material which reinforces our opinions, what is there to challenge our thought processes? How can we formulate reasoned arguments if we are never exposed to the perspectives from the other side?
If you are a liberal who only reads the New York Times and watches CNN, you are never going to have any understanding at all of why conservatives feel the way they do. If you are a conservative wedded to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, you’ll never gain any insight into the liberal mindset.
A community newspaper isn’t supposed to be Facebook, with algorithms designed to only show you what you want to see. We believe the world is more complex than that.
We try to make it clear that the columnists and cartoonists that appear on our pages do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newspaper, just as we try to make to make it clear when we offer those opinions that do reflect our thinking.
On our opinion pages, we try to provide a variety of ideas, positions and perspectives, so as to foster the most intelligent and reasonable dialogue possible among our readers.
So if you see something you think is just “too —” look around and you should find something that isn’t that way at all. But please don’t assume that just because we print it, we agree with it, and don’t shortchange yourself by refusing to become familiar with opinions other than your own.
Norman Baggs is general manager of The Times.