By editorial board • 

Forum for competing ideas essential to our democracy

Editorials, letters, columns, cartoons, endorsements and other forms of commentary are increasingly disappearing from America’s community newspapers. In fact, entire opinion sections are disappearing in all too many places, a sign the rest of the newspapers may soon follow.

Newspapers with a national reach, well-defined niche and/or massive home base, prominent examples including The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, seem to have found sufficient footing in today’s digital-first world.

But papers serving more limited and localized constituencies have gradually become perilously diminished and endangered, assuming they have not already succumbed. The driving force is a virtual vacuum of the printed classified, display and insert advertising that once accounted for upward of 80% of newspaper revenue.

When it comes to cutting costs in response, the risk of alienating the readers, who are serving to keep the enterprise afloat with their subscription dollars, makes opinion sections a more inviting target than, say, feature, sports or community sections. That’s particularly true of national chain papers coming under the ownership of hedge funds, for whom profit is the only consideration that counts.

Here in McMinnville, we’re facing the same fierce headwinds as our counterparts around the state and nation. That is now forcing us to reduce our page size and print frequency, while expanding our digital delivery from two to three editions a week to help compensate.

Rest assured, however, that we have no plans to abandon our historic role as a marketplace of ideas — yours or ours.

Here at the News-Register, editorial policy is set by a board consisting of the editor-in-chief, managing editor, associate editor and editorial page editor. That board meets weekly to discuss issues where it feels the newspaper might offer informed institutional comment.

The resulting editorial expression is designed to represent an institutional rather than personal view, to the point where the principal writer may actually disagree in whole or in part with some of the conclusions the board has reached. That’s why editorials are rarely signed at any newspaper and never signed at this one.

Our editorial aim is not to persuade others how to act, decide or vote in either their personal or professional lives. It is to present facts and analysis as a means of helping them reach informed opinions of their own, realizing those opinions may differ in important respect from ours.

That is a foundational element of American democracy, and newspapers have traditionally played a leading role, if not the leading role.

We also facilitate community engagement by publishing signed letters in print and hosting signed or unsigned posts online.

We published 276 printed letters last year, and many, many times that many online comments. We regard it as a public service vital to a healthy functioning democracy.

With rare exceptions, such as a recent visitor commenting on a local experience worthy of broader note, we limit letters to residents of our circulation area. We hold them to 300 words once a month to make it manageable.

We believe in letting readers offer their own take, even when they vehemently disagree with ours. So we publish every local letter we get that meets our basic requirements, even if it means conscripting additional space on heavy weeks.

We also welcome local guest opinions in the 500- to 750-word range. When we don’t feel they work for us at that length, we may either cut them to letter length or ask the writer to, in order to get as much reader opinion into the paper as possible.

In addition, we publish other elements of commentary from both inside and outside sources, the aim being to offer the richest and most diverse array possible, without duplicating material widely published elsewhere.

Finally, we keep all the opinion material we publish collected here under the Viewpoints banner. The rest of our pages are limited to factual reporting by members of our news staff.
The public testing of ideas with others is how this nation comes to the collective opinions that guide governmental and social policy. Believing it has served us well for some 250 years now, and we are dedicated to helping carry it on forward as best we can.


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