Platform for viewpoints doesn’t equal an endorsement

Published 7:31 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

“How could the newspaper say XYZ?” the caller asked. (I won’t disclose the specific topic so as not to expose anyone, instead letting you choose whatever hot-button topic you prefer).

If I hadn’t done this a few hundred times, I would have been at a loss for words. The short answer was: The “newspaper” didn’t say anything at all. We simply published the opinion of someone who had a particular viewpoint.

One of the most common misconceptions about any newspaper is that the employees agree with all the articles published. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Usually, the staff’s opinions on an issue are as varied and diverse as those of the community itself.

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For starters, it is important to understand the structure of the newspaper itself.

We go to great lengths to ensure articles on the front page and throughout much of the rest of the paper are fair and balanced, presenting all sides of an issue. This concept rarely creates much confusion.

Those rules don’t apply on the opinion page, the area of the newspaper that causes tempers to flare and people to ask questions like the aforementioned one.

Readers must remember the old saying about opinions — everybody has one.

The purpose of any opinion section in a newspaper is to promote public debate and discussion. The commentary and cartoons are, by their very nature, expressing a viewpoint and position.

Our opinion page has a few distinct types of content — all of which serve a purpose but are separate from each other.

First of all, the space along the left-hand side of the page or in the middle is labeled as the “Editorial.” That is the only place you will read “the newspaper’s opinion,” as established by the editorial board.

Anything you see that includes someone’s smiling face or has a byline is a column either by a guest contributor or me.

Regardless of who the author is, the opinions expressed do not represent the views of the paper or anyone else. This location allows individuals to express their own perspectives.

Nothing I write reflects the newspaper’s view. As one person, I may have a view that is different than what we would say is best for the community and for the newspaper.

This same rule applies to anyone else who writes a guest column on this page, or a pastoral commentary or a lifestyle column. People submit columns that hit on a variety of topics, taking stances that others and I often disagree with. But that doesn’t mean we would trample on the value of freedom of speech by silencing them.

That is one of the greatest liberties our wonderful nation offers, though it is not absolute.

Submissions should focus on opinions — whether we agree with them or not is irrelevant— rather than presenting facts that cannot be easily verified.

That brings us to another section of this page: letters to the editor.

Much like submitted columns, we urge readers to let us know what they think about what is going on in the world, the state and our community.

Finally, we have political cartoons. These often get readers upset, but it is important to remember that this is an artform built on satire and the party in power is always the easiest target.

Nothing published in any of these areas means individual employees agree with what is written. Each and every employee has his or her own perspectives on life, politics and everything else.

We don’t all have to agree. We just have to respect that fact of life.

The newspaper wants to provide a platform for many voices, but that certainly doesn’t mean we endorse all of the messages.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Advocate-Messenger and Danville Living magazine. He can be reached at (859) 469-6400 or by email at