Ask news editors if they want their publications to be relevant, to be talked about, to make a difference and to speak truth to power, they won’t answer yes. They’ll answer “Hell, yes!”
Good. Now it’s time for them to put the action behind that “Hell, yes!” They need to speak to their readers about what is happening in their state capital. And they need to do it with fist-pounding editorials on the front page, rather than carefully worded opinions on a page inside the paper.
Consider what the state legislature has done or is working on:
* Restricting the opportunity to vote.
* Interfering with the operations of local governments.
* Taking the possibility of Sharia law in N.C. courts seriously.
* Cutting benefits to thousands of unemployed citizens.
* Cutting public education funding.
* Mocking protesters and calling them names.
* Protecting the health of corporations who promote fracking rather than the health of residents who live in fracking areas.
* And, of course, restricting access to abortions in a surprise move — surprise to opponents, but supporting organizations were invited to watch.
There are others but you get the picture.
The General Assembly’s actions don’t make the front pages of many of the state’s newspapers. They should, though, because they are changing the culture and future of all of the state’s citizens. If that doesn’t call for front-page editorials, I don’t know what does.
News organizations have the opportunity to fulfill the purpose of journalism: to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. So why do it through front-page editorials rather than news stories? Because these issues are too important to leave the newspaper’s opinion to the inside pages. Thousands of people are protesting the state’s actions and dozens are being arrested for it. Now is the time for paper’s to stand up and shout.
The obvious objection is that front pages are for news, not political opinion, which is hogwash. Columnists run on front pages all over the state. Frankly, there is little to lose and much to gain. People already think newspapers are biased, and efforts to explain the difference between news and editorial pages fall on deaf ears.
Letting people know where the newspaper stands in strong language will win the paper respect. Most people like intelligence and courage. (Television stations could do the same, but it’s a rule that they don’t offend any viewers. Fear of people changing the channel is too great. Newspapers don’t have that problem.)
Some say that no one reads newspapers any more, but we know this to be true: the people who vote do.
Tomorrow, Americans celebrate freedom with parades, flag-waving and fireworks. What better time for newspapers to do the same thing?