What can local editorial pages learn from the reach of a New York Times editorial?

I woke up Wednesday morning with my Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with references and links to a New York Times editorial that skewers North Carolina’s political right turn. I liked it, partly because I agreed with its sentiments, but mainly because it is the kind of journalism that I’ve been pushing for statewide for months.

Later in the day, I saw this tweet from David Firestone, who is on the editorial staff of the New York Times. “Extraordinary response to our North Carolina editorial. Many residents there are furious at the state’s direction.” I then saw this tweet from the Times opinion page: “How has the GOP dismantled N. Carolina’s reputation for progress? http://nyti.ms/1djzjtS . Give us more examples using #NYTeditorial.”

The editorial then migrated to TV news, with this report on WRAL and another I watched this morning on WGHP. Gov. McCrory even got involved, releasing a statement that the editorial was “riddled with errors.” (No examples were given.)

It struck me that the Times had done what no North Carolina paper had — gone viral with an opinion on what was happening in N.C. Oh, state papers had editorialized on what the legislature is doing, but I couldn’t recall TV stations talking about their editorials or the governor responding.

So, I asked on Facebook and Twitter “Does a New York Times editorial about N.C. politics have more influence than the local newspapers’ editorials?”

The response was tremendous on Facebook — 34 comments and counting. (It vanished quickly on Twitter.) Some objected to my use of “more influence” and asked for further definition. I purposely used vague language to let commenters define it for themselves.

Most of the commenters said they thought the Times editorial does have more influence, but it wasn’t close to unanimous. Most of the commenters likely veer to the more progressive side, although not all. I’ve included some of the comments below, but please read them on the Facebook page. They do a good job discussing the strengths and weaknesses of editorial opinion.

My sense is that newspaper editorial staffs should think hard about this. Is there a way to expand the local paper’s editorial influence? Should their opinions be more pointed and direct? Should they be less predictable so that they grab more attention when people are surprised? Should they display the editorials on the front page when the topic is important?

Some comments:

“I’ve been involved in the sale and acquisition and relocation of manufacturing business units for many years.  While you could make a case that abortion laws, gay rights, education spending, etc. would be factors in where a business would relocate or expand, I haven’t seen that in practice – perhaps a function of the industry I’m in.  Bottom line – it’s been about the bottom line – taxes, incentives, energy costs, labor costs, etc.  I’ve watched manufacturing move in and out of California – the hot button issues we love to debate here on Facebook don’t appear to be deciding factors for the moves.”

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“If I were a high schooler looking at colleges right now, I’d be nervous about coming here. If I were a grad looking at jobs, I wouldn’t be looking here.

“If I were choosing where to locate a manufacturing business? On a purely economic sense, this wouldn’t matter. But if I were looking at where to locate my ad agency, my internet start-up, or my database tech firm? Those are all businesses I do a lot of contract work for. They aren’t here, and I suspect I’ll be moving closer to them before they move closer to me.”

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“There are still too many folks who live in North Carolina who haven’t even heard of the New York Times, much less ever read it… These are the folks we need to reach, and a good local paper editorial might still be the way to do it!”

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“I posted the editorial on our page today with box asking readers what they thought of it. I’ve had 14 email responses thus far and one call. That probably sets a record for one morning responses to anything on the editorial page in the six years I’ve been here.”

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