Work on editorial page filled with reward and responsibility

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I recently discovered an early Peanuts cartoon strip that made me smile more than usual.

The Peanuts gang was playing navy, and had fashioned sailor hats out of newspapers. One character asks another where the captain is. “Over there,” he says. “Which one is he?” the first one asks.

“He’s the one with the editorial page on his head.”

Remember the infrequent expression on Charlie Brown’s face when he was all warm inside? Like when he saw the little red-haired girl? That was my face when I read that strip.

We take a lot of flak in the opinion industry, as you might imagine. I’ve been called every name in the book. People have wished me ill. And I was once threatened by a caller who promised to show me “what a 57-year-old man can do.”

Nor is it much fun to publicly call out corrupt or tyrannical public officials. It can be quite unsettling. Trust me.

Moreover, it’s more than a little surreal to realize that when you get up in the morning, everyone in town is capable of having an opinion on what kind of day you had at work yesterday.

But in helping prepare today’s guide to the editorial page – we just thought it would be fun to do, and have been talking about doing it for years – I was reminded again of how very rewarding and meaningful this job is.

Conventional wisdom has it that editorials try to tell people what to think, or some such nonsense. We know better than that. The truth is, editorials serve many other functions.

They simply take note of important events, issues and people. They point out the good and bad in the community or the world at large, perhaps suggesting ways to change the bad. They praise or lament society’s angels and devils. They campaign for things and people. Sometimes they just try to be fun or entertaining. And, yes, they try to provoke thought and even action.

Persuasive writing has always been with us, but no country has the proud tradition of editorial writing that the United States does. It’s a privilege and a thrill being part of that long line of public champions.

We don’t just get brickbats, of course. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t thank us or compliment us. I once had a man tell me my editorial inspired him to run for office. Another time, I was told that I changed a governor’s mind on an issue. A woman was moved to create a piece of art to go with another bit of our prose. Mostly, people seem to appreciate someone standing up for what they think is right in a tempest of wrong.

I’m often asked how one goes about writing editorials. The truth is, it’s a bit like tying a necktie: It’s nearly impossible to describe; you just do it. And, as with a necktie, you hope it doesn’t choke you.

Besides all the other things we aim for, we try to make our editorials compelling and, with any luck, well-worded. We are, first and foremost, writers who admire a well-turned phrase in others and pray to turn out an occasional one ourselves.

Kenneth Rystrom, in a book titled The Why Who and How of the Editorial Page, listed some of the top qualities of editorial writers – including a wide variety of interests; a background in, or knack for, reporting; solid writing skills; a commitment to justice and integrity; and “the ability to reason cogently.”

To that list I would add – at the very top – a heart for people and their predicaments. To me, it’s the most important qualification. You can pick the other stuff up along the way.

Editorial page work has changed me in many ways, but probably the most profound way is that it has required me to think things through – and to be willing to question basic, even long-held assumptions.

I’ve also had to learn how to argue issues without putting emotional stock in the outcome of the debate. I’ve noticed it’s difficult
for folks to engage in a passionate dispute over issues they feel strongly about without letting anger seep in.

It’s interesting, for example, that people who may not know who their state representative is seem to know how the universe was created.

I’ve come to the conclusion that dispassionate debate is not an innate skill for most of us, and therefore takes learning. I think schools should think about teaching argumentative skills to everyone, not just the debate squad.

We all might get along better – and get at the truth more.

Comments (18) Add comment
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Techfan
6462
Points
Techfan 11/25/12 - 05:22 am
4
5
I seldom agree with the

I seldom agree with the editorials, especially since they're usually a rehash of Faux, WND, or other right wing sites. I'll be happy to show you what a 56 year old man can do, just give me a couple of minutes to stand up, wait, my legs asleep, hang on, I've got a catch in my back, oh heck, we'll try later.

Riverman1
93819
Points
Riverman1 11/25/12 - 05:49 am
7
2
Don't Forget the OTHER Editorialists

First, let me say thank you for all you do. As an “anonymous” commenter, I have many of the same impressions of the power of having others read what you say as you have. I’m, also, always ready to take up for commenters and the effect they have on readers. THIS story is just coming into awareness by many. I’ll also guess there’s a degree of hostility from traditional newspaper people who once had a monopoly on the printed word as they see their power diluted. While not denigrating your efforts and influence, I’d also point out the thousands of Internet readers who follow our spirited debates under what is often the most mundane news item.

It’s interesting and sometimes hilarious where good debates may break out. Facts and valid opinions are often included in the comments that go way beyond the information in the article or editorial. Readers have a greater sense of the matter as they read the comments under an article and see how others of all persuasions feel about the issues.

One last question I’d ask you to examine within yourself. Who is more honest in his comments…an anonymous poster or a newspaper person who has the parameters of owners, connections with public officials and goals of the newspaper?

Techfan
6462
Points
Techfan 11/25/12 - 06:49 am
8
5
Unfortunately, it's often the

Unfortunately, it's often the anonymous poster who'll often look at numerous sites and gain a better understanding of the story. The newspaper often follows the guidelines of its owner, much like Faux "News" personalities follow the guidelines and talking points handed down to them from on high. When their most frequent sources are from the extreme right and often from sources that have been discredited (O'Keefe as an example) it becomes all too obvious that they have no interest in journalistic integrity, but are merely parroting the talking points of the extreme right wing.

seenitB4
97733
Points
seenitB4 11/25/12 - 08:41 am
4
1
The Facts

Sometimes the poster has the facts...because it is their story you are talking about....
We have many clever posters on here...they prove it everyday & really make this place interesting..yes the world has changed.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 11/25/12 - 09:13 am
3
2
" no country has the proud

" no country has the proud tradition of editorial writing that the United States does"

SOURCE PLEASE

harley_52
25914
Points
harley_52 11/25/12 - 10:57 am
6
7
As A Retired Military Person...

...I have had the opportunity to have traveled to, or lived in, many foreign countries, but also in most of the states in this country. Having lived in many, I've also had to opportunity to read and consider the editorial pages of lots of different newspapers, some from small/medium sized towns and some from major cities.

It is my opinion that, compared to all the others I've seen, Mike Ryan and the rest of the Augusta Chronicle Editorial Staff do a superb job in both researching and writing an Opinion Page that is second to none.

I know there are many who disagree with that statement. No surprise there. As an aid to understanding why that might be, just look at Mr. Ryan's description of the intent of the AC Editors...."This newspaper's beliefs are rooted in Christianity and the Constitution. We firmly believe in the sanctity of out creator and the inviolability of this nation's founding document."

With a mission statement like that, there's little wonder why "progressives" turn purple and have steam rolling out of their ears at some of the Editorial pieces presented by the ACES. To a true "progressive," Christianity and the Constitution are archenemies.

Keep up the good work.

Willow Bailey
20605
Points
Willow Bailey 11/25/12 - 11:05 am
5
5
Kudos, Harley.

Kudos, Harley.

Jake
34095
Points
Jake 11/25/12 - 12:48 pm
3
4
Appreciative

I appreciate the fair and balanced editorials the AC provides readers with. Their unbiased and accurate opinions of the wrong doings of both the Democrat and Repblican party are very informative.

jbartley
619
Points
jbartley 11/25/12 - 01:30 pm
4
2
Nobody says thanks!!

Mike you do a verry good job, I have never seen you be anything but Professional!

harley_52
25914
Points
harley_52 11/25/12 - 01:49 pm
5
4
Jake...

The Chronicle Editorial Staff have made it abundantly clear that they write their pieces to represent the views of their owner and focus on a Christian and Constitutional perspective. I don't think they make any pretense of being "balanced" when viewed from a political/philosophical slant as they are unabashedly Conservative. That's why you "progressives" complain so much.

Are they "fair?" I believe they are. I think being "fair" is an attribute shared by most Conservatives, but it certainly doesn't mean their Editorials need be half Conservative and half "progressive." That's neither how they describe themselves, nor how their Editorial pieces are written.

If you want to read a paper with a decidedly "progressive" bent, you're looking in the wrong paper. Try the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

justus4
113
Points
justus4 11/25/12 - 02:03 pm
0
0
"Responsibility" is stated in
Unpublished

"Responsibility" is stated in the article. Where is that responsibility when it comes to Truth? Telling the truth is difficult and rarely given from such venues either due to ignorance, or the lack of proper observation. More work is needed to ACCURATELY inform the public - its just too easy preaching to the choir.

Jake
34095
Points
Jake 11/25/12 - 04:02 pm
2
1
@harley

Noted.

InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 11/25/12 - 04:55 pm
3
3
Double Kudos to Harley!

Double Kudos to Harley! (10:57 am)

JohnRandolphHardisonCain
576
Points
JohnRandolphHardisonCain 11/25/12 - 06:28 pm
6
3
The Augusta Chronicle is

The Augusta Chronicle is doomed just like the wars of choice and the extreme right wing agenda it supports. Is this editorial prelude to Chapter 11 (again) or is Mike Ryan about to exit stage right?

Retired Army
17513
Points
Retired Army 11/25/12 - 09:12 pm
4
3
Balanced?

And of course if one wants both sides of the issues online for no charge, there is the well balanced Washington Post.

Kathleen Parker, Eugene Robinson, E.J. Dionne, Charles Krauthamer, Dana Milbank to name just a few.

There is good reason why editorialists/columnists such as these are better paid.

They are better informed and superior communicators and the audience is well served by a balanced approach.

Not to mention, as JRHC notes above, well managed financially. The operators of our home town opinion void could learn from them.

I read and pay subscription fees for both the electronic and "Dead Tree" versions of this paper, so I don't need others input on supporting the local daily. However, as any consumer has the right to do, I do complain about this product's inability/unwillingness to serve the whole community, not just the minority. It's why news outlets go out of business everyday around the world. Failure to adapt.

Mr. Ryan, the writing is on the wall. Failure on your employer's part to present both sides of the debate will be the downfall of our community newspaper. It is so last century. And, in the end, who would be served by that?

Retired Army
17513
Points
Retired Army 11/25/12 - 09:22 pm
4
0
And yes I chose the word

And yes I chose the word "minority' with deliberation.

As the state appointed legal organ for Richmond County, (For which the Chronicle is amply rewarded with our tax dollars, oops, government mandated fees-for legal notices etc.) after the recent Richmond County election results and a following of the Chronicles recomendations, who could claim they are serving the majority of the citizenry of our community?

Hell, even this dumb ol' high school dropout Soldier can figure that much out.

KSL
143990
Points
KSL 11/25/12 - 11:25 pm
1
2
After reading Cain's comment,

After reading Cain's comment, I just might spring for the full access.

KSL
143990
Points
KSL 11/25/12 - 11:40 pm
0
1
RA speaking with forked tongue.

I know I implied I would not be addressing him. But I could not let this contradiction in his posts slide. He recently posted that he dropped out of high school when he was told they could not teach him any more. Not anymore. The implication was that he was quite advanced. Above he claims to be a dumb high school dropout.

Which is it? And from now on, what do you believe of what he posts?

For the moderator, all I am doing is pointing out contradictions in two very recent posts, posts he placed himself.

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