Editorials becoming thing of the past

2:18:11 PM CDT - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Fewer community papers in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma are carrying editorials, which have long been considered the heart and soul of a good newspaper, according to a study done by a WSU journalism teacher.

Les Anderson, associate professor in the Elliott School of Communication and a former longtime newspaper owner and editor, did an extensive survey of papers in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to determine the state of the editorial page.

"After judging newspapers from different states over the years, I noticed there was a decline not only in the number of local editorials that were being carried by these newspapers, but in some cases there were no editorial pages at all," Anderson says.

"Editorial pages, and more specifically, local editorials, reflect the vitality of a community," says Anderson, who founded and edited The Ark Valley News in Valley Center from 1975 until 2001. "These newspapers and the editorial pages sometimes are as embedded in the lives of the people they cover as the people who live there. A newspaper that doesn't carry local editorials shows a certain lack of connectivity to its community."

What Anderson found through his survey is that a number of newspapers aren't carrying local editorials.
Two-thirds of the responding editors and publishers of daily newspapers in the three states said they still write local editorials. Only 58 percent of the weekly newspapers indicated they consistently produce local editorials.

A larger percentage of dailies and weeklies in Missouri run local editorials than their counterparts in Kansas and Oklahoma. Three-fourths of the dailies in Missouri carry editorials, while 65 percent of the weeklies write editorials.

Of the 21 daily papers in Kansas that responded, 12, or about 58 percent, write editorials. Little more than half the 52 weekly paper respondents carry editorials. In Oklahoma, only 25 percent of the responding daily newspapers produce editorials, while 52 percent of the weeklies write such columns.

"There are several reasons that you're seeing fewer and fewer editorials generated locally and also editorial pages," says Anderson, who as a newspaper editor ran a local editorial every week. "One has to do with time, and another has to do with lack of staff. Shrinking budgets and lack of time and personnel can cause problems, but newspaper editors and publishers need to make that editorial commitment."

A lot of local papers are owned by chains that look at the bottom line, he notes, so there are fewer people doing more work on newspaper staffs.

Some editors noted in the survey that because they are part of a community, they'd rather not comment editorially on local issues for financial and survival reasons.

But a number of editors responded that they feel not only do they have a responsibility to the community to write local editorials, but that they can prompt discussions of important topics.

"Local editorials are critical to the newspaper being a community leader and they stimulate public discussion on important local issues," says John Montgomery, an editor and publisher of The Hays Daily News, which is owned by the Harris newspaper chain in Kansas. He's the current Kansas Press Association president.

"We are a small newspaper but have always published an editorial page," says Scott Jackson, publisher of the Boonville Daily News in Missouri. "I believe this page is an important part of all newspapers, even small ones. While we don't expect our readers to agree with us always, we want them to think about the issues. I think too many small papers are afraid to upset the locals and choose the path of least resistance."

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