Letter from the editor: No, we are not biased
In recent weeks we have received a couple of notes from local readers alleging that our newspaper is “biased” toward Republicans.
The first writer took exception to our Sept. 13 “Street Beat” poll that asked participants whether they had decided on their candidate for president. Three of the five answers were in support of Mitt Romney. Another person said he had not made up his mind. The fifth respondent did not indicate a preference.
A few days later a second reader wrote to point out two headlines in our paper which, in his view, showed bias toward Republicans. The first headline was attached to a letter to the editor; the second, to a column by political writer Dick Lyles.
“I pick up my granddaughter at (a local school) where the moms and grandmas pick up their kids,” this writer said. “Even the Republicans in the crowd agree that there is a bias in your paper.”
I strongly disagree. Please let me explain.
“Street Beat” participants are selected at random. Each week one of our writers goes to a public place (shopping center, park or public event) and attempts to gain the cooperation of five people who a) are willing to express an opinion b) are willing to have their name used and c) are willing to be photographed. We try to vary the type of questions asked. Sometimes they are political, sometimes sports related, sometimes lifestyle related.
You might be surprised how difficult is it to find willing participants. It’s not uncommon for the writer to have to ask 15 or 20 people before the required five are interviewed and photographed. Writers doing Street Beat learn to deal with rejection and, sometimes, rude comments about the media.
No attempt is made to balance out the Street Beat answers. They are simply the responses of the first five people willing to be quoted and photographed.
A letter to the editor contains the views of the writer. My job as the editor is to make sure the letters fit within the 250-word limit and do not get us into legal trouble. I write a headline on each letter to summarize the point(s) being made by the writer.
We have a long history here of running nearly every letter submitted in a timely manner. We run letters from Republicans, Democrats, independents, Libertarians, tea party and Green Party members. Again, the views expressed are those of the writers.
Regarding our political columnists, we have several who approach topics from differing perspectives. Dick Lyles tends to be conservative while Amy Roost (the former Amy Sandberg) is usually more liberal. Bob Emery usually sticks to local topics but has been known to stray into political topics. Many readers are under the false assumption he is a Democrat. Allen Hemphill tends to be more independent with a bit of Libertarianism mixed in.
Moving on to political cartoons … each week I select one cartoon from about a half-dozen offered through the King Features Syndicate. I love a well-drawn cartoon and make my selection based not on what partisan view it may express, but the effectiveness of the message being conveyed. Democrats and Republicans sometimes drop me mean-spirited notes when the week’s cartoon makes their candidate look bad.
The only part of the newspaper where the opinion of the ownership is expressed is in the clearly marked “editorial.” Topics covered here are usually local and non-partisan in nature.
I suppose, to eliminate the false perception of bias, we could stop running letters, columns and cartoons on state, national and world issues. Some weekly newspapers, including several within our own company, prohibit publication of such items, feeling that “local weeklies” should focus only on local issues. These same newspaper also prohibit letters to the editor about the merits of local candidates seeking office.
At this point, I’m torn about whether to line up with these other weekly papers. I would appreciate hearing from you on the matter. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Dreyer, Editor
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