Shoptalk: About editorials and deeds

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 28, 2007

A complaint about Post editorials last week led to a logical question from the reader who was expressing his suspicions: Who writes those things, anyway?

Someone got the idea that editorials bear no byline or writer’s name because people in the community with a particular point of view were supplying some of them for us to promote their agenda.

First, let’s be sure everyone knows what we’re talking about; newspaper lingo is not universally known.

What you’re reading right now is a column, my personal reflections on a topic. The essay to the left of this is an editorial.

Though I write half of the editorials and Editorial Page Editor Chris Verner writes the other half, we strive to make them more substantial than our personal point of view. In that space, we are speaking for the paper, expressing the Post’s editorial “voice.”

Publishing such editorials — unsigned — is a longstanding newspaper tradition.

We have an editorial board that includes the two of us and Managing Editor Frank DeLoache, Copy Desk Chief Deirdre Parker Smith and Senior Reporter Mark Wineka. But I’ll be honest with you, there is little time here to gather all five of us to debate daily issues; I have not called the editorial board together for months. More often, Chris and I talk things over, do our own research and edit each other’s work.

Are Post editorials biased? Yes, if you want to put it that way. Each editorial states an opinion, and many of them spring from a clear point of view: that Salisbury-Rowan is a good place to live that should always strive to be better. “Better” is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but some of the guiding principles are a good public school system, a strong economy, open and fair government, a clean environment, respect for history and an involved citizenry.

The same principles apply to editorials about state, local and national topics, but the majority of our editorials focus on local issues. One of the things the Post offers that you can’t get from other newspapers, Bill O’Reilly or Oprah Winfrey is content from and about Rowan County issues.

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That’s our opinion. But what’s more important is your opinion, and letters to the editor is my favorite part of the paper.

Our goal is for the letters column to be an open forum where anyone can express opinions about issues of general public interest.

And we do mean everyone — rich, poor, liberal, conservative and every degree in between. You don’t have to agree with our editorial point of view or our newspaper coverage.

We do require that letter writers identify themselves, no pseudonyms or anonymity. That lends civility to the column as well as credibility. People are more careful with their words when their name is attached.

Does that contradict the unsigned editorial policy? I don’t think so. Chris and I answer for our editorials on a regular basis.

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On to deeds. Each Saturday, in our Home & Garden section, we publish a list of real estate deeds of transfer — the most recent batch that we’ve found time to type into the system.

We list the seller, the buyer and the final selling price, and we group them by township so you’ll have some idea where the properties are in Rowan.

A gentleman called last week and asked very politely that we not list his deed in the paper. He didn’t want everyone to know what he’d sold his property for; that kind of financial information feels like something private and confidential. Would we please make an exception for him?

I empathize. But real estate transactions are a matter of public record and they are news. Some of them are big news — a huge tract has changed hands and will be developed in a way that will affect the public. Some are micro news — your neighbors sold their house, and their selling price will help determine your own property’s value.

We could leave it to readers to look up those things themselves, as we do now with estates that were once listed in the paper. But providing people with information so they won’t have to look it up — or attend the meeting, witness the accident, interview the people — is our job. And we want to do it consistently, thoroughly, without doing favors for friends, relatives, ourselves or even subscribers who call and ask in the nicest way possible.

The day may come when that policy changes. Change is the only constant, after all — so much so that the word “change” hardly seems to match today’s pace. Things move so fast that they seem to flip, click or pop, not just change. It’s a challenge to mesh newspaper traditions and values with the iPod age.

For now, though, with more development coming to Rowan and the real estate market heating up, a complete list of local deeds is a valuable service the Post can offer. It’s news.

If you want to comment on deeds, editorials or anything else, I’d like to hear from you. You can call or e-mail me; the details are below. Or you, too, can uphold a tradition and express your thoughts with pen and paper. The world hasn’t gone completely digital — yet.

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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post. Contact her at 704-797-4244, editor@salisburypost.com or P.O. Box 4639, Salisbury, N.C. 28144.

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