A core newspaper value: The strong voice of the editorial page

Yesterday, Andria Krewson and I had a good email exchange about Amendment One, newspapers, editorial pages and the influence of written opinion. She writes about her findings this afternoon in CJR. As usual, Andria does an excellent job researching and analyzing N.C. journalism. (Full disclosure: she quotes me.)

Among the things I told her was my fear that newspapers, including editorial pages, were quickly losing their influence and impact (which I wrote about here and here). I have no research on how a town’s newspaper editorial position correlates with the area’s vote on Amendment One. It would be an interesting study for some journalism student.

Editorial pages are a destination in newspapers. Strong, fist-pounding opinions are a must. (What is there to lose?) So is using every tool at their disposal to engage the community. (Video, anyone?) I know how hard it is when you don’t have enough people or technology. Times of desperation — that’s where we are, isn’t it? — require focusing on your fundamental values. Strong community leadership provided by the voice of the editorial page should be a fundamental value of every newspaper. That means, provide appropriate resources to make it a treasured, nourishing destination.

Understanding Amendment One: N.C. is better than this

Update: Well, that didn’t go quite the way I thought.

I’m trying to wrap my head around the polling that says that so many likely North Carolina voters — 46% — don’t fully understand the so-called marriage amendment. I get that uninformed people go to the polls and vote. (How is anyone really supposed to know which judgeship candidate to vote for? Or the Council of State positions?) I also get that misinformed people vote. Happens in every election.

What puzzles me is how they can not understand that the marriage amendment is not an up or down vote on gay marriage.

53% of voters in the state support either gay marriage or civil unions, yet a majority also support the amendment that would ban both. The reason for that disconnect is even with just 24 hours until election day only 46% of voters realize the proposal bans both gay marriage and civil unions. Those informed voters oppose the amendment by a 61-37 margin but there may not be enough time left to get the rest of the electorate up to speed.

Now, I know that sowing confusion was purposeful in how the amendment was written. The wording is broad and full of misdirection. The Republican representative who championed the amendment through the House as much as admitted it to the Fayetteville Observer on Sunday. “(Rep. Paul) Stam, the Raleigh lawmaker, said he wanted a more narrowly worded amendment but was ‘overruled’ by ‘national experts’ he identified as the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group.” (That story buried the lede, if you ask me.)

Still, with all the publicity of the last week, I am befuddled by the polling that suggests tens of thousands of people don’t understand what it means. Newspapers across the state — country, actually — have written endlessly about it. TV stations have run report after report. Facebook and Twitter has been lit up over the past few days.

I know that readership of newspapers is down, and viewership of TV news isn’t great. But is this a case of people getting all their information from friends and acquaintances, information that is incomplete or wrong? Is that what is going to decide an amendment to the state Constitution? Say it ain’t so. North Carolina is better than this.

For the record, I think the amendment has a decent chance of going down…and I’m betting it will be closer than the 14-18-point range by which the polls predict it will pass. Perhaps that is my heart talking rather than my head, but I think people are learning what the amendment really means and I think the energized anti-turnout may well turn the tide.