The print space devoted to the issue showed a commitment to community discussion; the effort to divide that space completely equally seemed unnecessary, even just before the election, given that the paper’s editorial pages had clearly taken a stand. A proportional division based on the submissions received could have been better, with some method for using the unlimited space online to share submitted columns that wouldn’t fit in print.
Nancy Webb, who edits the letters for the Observer, said she received many more original letters against the amendment than supporting it. The only exception, she said, came earlier in the spring, when form letters arrived calling for a boycott of Starbucks for supporting same-sex marriage. (The National Organization for Marriage urged the letter-writing campaign.) Webb said the Observer avoids printing astroturfed letters.
Down on the coast, the Wilmington Star News, a former New York Times regional newspaper with a university nearby, took a strong editorial stand against Amendment One. It, too, uses Facebook comments (though in this case, a brief review showed that the requirement for real names didn’t prevent ad hominem arguments). The paper, now owned by Halifax Communications, continues to devote letters space to the issue a week after the vote.
The paper also showed quick reflexes on the editorial page and rapid response to voter concerns after a sign at a church used as a voting precinct took a direct position on Amendment One. An editorial that urged the county elections board to consider the effect of church signs on precinct voters went online on election day, providing concrete leadership in the reexamination of long established practice. The paper, now owned by Halifax Communications, deserves applause.
In April, after the Pulitzer board declined to award a prize for editorials this year, Dan Gillmor weighed in at the Guardian on what he called “the lost art of editorials.” Wrote Gillmor:
Great editorial pages had clout in the old days for two reasons. The first was that newspapers themselves had clout, which has dissipated in recent years. The second was that editorial pages genuinely stood for something. They were used by newspaper publishers to help set and move the public agenda.
Gillmor lamented the “standard ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ nonsense” produced by editorial pages at many “metro and local dailies” today, and urged them to instead aim to “get the community involved in a broader conversation about its condition and its future.”
Which is precisely what several North Carolina newspapers endeavored to do around Amendment One. Now: How to keep the conversation going?
Correction: This post originally misidentified John Robinson’s title at the News & Record. He is the paper’s former editor, not the former managing editor. CJR regrets the error.