Newspaper strives to present all views on opinion page

Published 7:17 pm Friday, November 1, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Not a week goes by that this paper isn’t criticized by someone for being biased in favor of a political party. The funny thing is we never know which political party we’ll be accused of getting in bed with next.

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Some days, we hear from people who say we are nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party. Other days, we hear how our Republican rag is good for nothing other than lining bird cages.

How is this possible? We think it’s a combination of two things: Our intentional efforts to represent as many views as possible on our opinion page; and a general misunderstanding among the public of what an opinion page is.

Let’s start with a clear distinction: Most of what you read in The Advocate-Messenger is news, not opinion. Our news content doesn’t lean left or right; it doesn’t even hit down the middle politically speaking. Our news content simply is not political or opinionated. We aim to provide factual news and let the facts lead where they may.

This opinion page is the walled-off piece of the newspaper where opinions are published that go beyond facts. But even here, we don’t play political favorites.

We’re not sure when The Advocate-Messenger last endorsed any political candidate, but we know it hasn’t participated in candidate endorsements at any level of government for a very long time. Even in 2016, when presidential endorsements surged at newspapers around the country, we did not jump on the bandwagon.

That’s because we believe the newspaper’s primary purpose is not to push any specific political agenda; it’s primary purpose is to inform all of its readers, regardless of their personal political affiliations, about the facts.

The paper’s editorial board takes positions on issues all the time, through editorials on the opinion page. The opinions are not necessarily the direct opinions of any individual, but rather represent a position that those on the editorial board feel comfortable signing off on.

We work hard to make sure our editorials are informative, fact-based and balanced. Whenever we know about a valid opposing viewpoint, we attempt to acknowledge that viewpoint respectfully.

Our opinion page also features a wide variety of op-ed columns, including as many as we can get from local writers. We never reject a column because it promotes a viewpoint the newspaper staff disagrees with. In fact, the editorial board loves to see widely differing opinions in columns because it means we’re succeeding in making the opinion page a public square where everyone’s ideas are given a fair shake.

Finally, our opinion page includes letters to the editor, which appear under our “Voice of the People” header. While we hold guest columnists to certain standards, we allow our letters section to be far more free-ranging. As long as the writer isn’t engaging in ad hominem attacks or just smearing someone they dislike, and as long as they aren’t making unverifiable or false statements of fact (rather than expressing opinions), we let every local person have their say.

The paper’s editorials are the only content on the opinion page we truly control; everything else is someone else’s opinion and none of it is presented with any kind of endorsement from us. But more and more, people are interpreting the fact we published someone else’s opinion as proof we agree with that opinion.

Here’s the problem: Most people’s understanding of news has been corrupted and redefined by the partisan news sources that now dominate the landscape, from Fox News and Breitbart on the right to MSNBC and ShareBlue on the left.

The pervasiveness of politically aligned media organizations has led many to believe all media organizations hold such allegiances. When they see a media outlet not explicitly flying political colors, they assume not that it is staying out of the political fray, but that it’s keeping its political priorities secret. Sadly, this leads them to mistrust some of the only organizations out there that should actually be trusted.

In reality, there are still many media outlets — mostly newspapers these days — that truly are non-partisan. Individuals working at these papers obviously hold their own political views, as everyone does, but they’ve been trained to leave their personal feelings out of their reporting.

And make no mistake — you’ll find rabid conservatives, left-wing radicals and everyone in between working at these non-partisan papers. Because regardless of their personal views, they all agree that someone must provide facts and context to our world that aren’t colored red or blue.