Why Do We Write Editorials?



When we published last Friday's editorial, "Should Payson subsidize police for Star Valley ... again?" we expected to hear protests about the opinion. What we didn't expect to receive were protests that we expressed an opinion at all.

After the piece published, the Roundup received a couple of e-mails accusing the paper's editorial of showing bias and of trying to persuade public opinion. One e-mail compared the article published on the front page of that same edition as factual and objective and compared it to our editorial, which was "prejudiced."

I would agree with the writers that our editorial was written to express an opinion and to sway public opinion.

But I disagree with the writers that, by doing so, we overstepped the bounds of the editorial page.

In fact, I would not even use this space to address the comments, if it weren't for the fact that they came from more than one person.

The e-mails sparked a conversation among our editorial board as to the function of editorials in newspapers, and, specifically, in the Payson Roundup.

According to the guidelines for the Pulitzer Prize awarded for editorial writing, "the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction."

These guidelines were written by the Pulitzer Prize committee in the early '20s and they are the standard by which editorials have been judged for nearly a century since.

The tradition of running editorials began in 1721 when James Franklin began writing his opinion in the pages of the New England Courant. When Franklin published an editorial criticizing the government, he was sent to prison.

Today, editorials are as much a part of newspapers as news itself.

How they are written and by whom varies by publication. Larger papers actually hire editorial page editors who dedicate their entire days to researching and crafting opinions.

In the case of the Roundup, we outline our editorials during weekly meetings of our five-member editorial board -- composed of three community volunteers, the editor and the publisher. The actual editorial is written by the editor.

The primary purpose of editorials, at the Roundup and industrywide, is to stimulate discussion in the community, to clarify issues where waters have been muddied by a barrage of information, to point out the significance of events that may seem as obscure as an agenda item at a planning and zoning commission meeting or to advocate for positions the newspaper feels are right, according to its core values.

Not every editorial in the Roundup takes a firm stand. Some editorials are written merely to inform or to applaud.

As a rule, we never endorse candidates, but we do not shy away from endorsing one side or another of a political issue.

However, page 4 of the Roundup, which is headed by the word "Opinion," should be the only place in the newspaper where one perspective is endorsed over another.

In the rest of the newspaper, our journalists should be mere mirrors of what is happening around them -- without bias, without prejudice and without the desire to persuade public opinion.

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