I sternly decry the newspaper editorial

When I was an editor at my college newspaper back in the early seventies, one of the biggest challenges we had was coming up with a topic for the daily editorial. Every day we, as representatives of the student voice, had to arrive at an opinion on an issue of the day, then explain rationally and thoroughly why we opposed allowing waterbeds in dorm rooms, or supported genocide in Southeast Asia (maybe it was the other way around).

Though there was no shortage of controversial subjects in those turbulent times, it became difficult to not only develop a unique viewpoint, but also find the right verb to describe what was almost always our outrage and/or indignation. We would deplore, condemn, reprimand, revile, regret, reproach or admonish the university administration for its stance on something. Every now and then, we would commend, endorse, extol, applaud or acclaim something else, usually whatever it was we saw as contrary to the establishment, although that wasn’t nearly as fun as denouncing. A good thesaurus became a must for us.

How dare President Nixon remain in office despite the continuing revelations of his Watergate-related crimes, and despite calls for his resignation from me and the friend of mine who wrote the editorials? We implored — no, insisted; no, demanded — that he leave office immediately, or as soon as he got around to reading the FSU collegiate daily.

The conceit, of course, was that anybody really cared what we had to say. Sure, we claimed to speak for a new generation that questioned authority and spoke out against injustice. But so did Pepsi.

Newspapers today continue to print editorials, although no one is quite sure why. About the only time I can think that it’s useful is for low-level electoral races, when I’m faced with choosing between the retired veterinarian with the funny name and the old lady with the frizzy hair running for assistant county coroner. You can imagine any of those qualities being a good background for handling dead people. However, you assume your local paper has done more research than that and can endorse the best candidate, so you vote for the other one because the local paper is staffed by liberals (i.e., people who went to college).

Our faculty advisor told us you should never espouse a particular stance unless it’s conceivable that someone else could plausibly argue the other side of the argument. So no fair to editorialize that puppies are cute, or that Hitler was being mean in his treatment of the peoples of Europe.

But it seems like a lot of newspapers, especially those in small towns, never got this message. They continue to advance “Our View,” as my hometown daily describes it, on the most non-controversial matters you can imagine. Recent examples in the Rock Hill Herald include:

  • Congratulations are in order for recent breakthroughs in research on a potential AIDS vaccine, though “those who are sexually active would be well-advised to use the preventative methods that already are proven to work.”
  • The state attorney general should return campaign contributions from lawyers he later hired.
  • A new building just opened at the local university is a “unique addition to the campus.”
  • It’s fair to ask school administrators to take a few days without pay to address a budget shortfall.
  • It’s good that plans for a new county museum under consideration are being scaled back, in light of the recession.
  • Don’t text while driving.
  • Owls and people should get along.

That last subject was inspired by a recent incident in my city’s largest park. A jogger was buzzed by a bird believed to be an owl, prompting municipal officials to close a nature trail where the predator struck. Park managers scratched their heads about what to do — perhaps considering guidance from the editorial, which said that slaying the bird “wasn’t an option” — and finally consulted with state wildlife officials. They said it was probably just a mother owl protecting her young. When baby birds were seen near the site a few days later, it was surmised that the young were now out of the nest, and the mother would no longer be quite so aggressive.

“We’re delighted that those who walk or jog through Cherry Park now are safe from owl attacks,” read the next day’s editorial.

We had another animal-related incident reported locally that inspired me to see if I still had the opinionated touch I exhibited back in college. Vandals broke into a pet store, stealing supplies and computer equipment and generally, well, behaving like animals.

Maybe I can offer a guest submission on this subject to the paper. How might such an editorial read?

October is national Predator Appreciation Month, and we’d like to do our part by offering kudos to a local group of potential killers who showed remarkable self-control under some very trying circumstances.

When burglars entered the Animal Supply House on Anderson Road Saturday night, they not only destroyed and stole property, but they also let a half-dozen cats out of their pens, opened bird cages and removed the lid from a snake’s terrarium. When store workers arrived the next morning, they might have easily expected to find that Nature had taken its course — that the cats had eaten the birds, and the snake had eaten the cats.

Such was not the case, however. Though given the opportunity to roam free, the snake had stayed put in its cage. Birds fluttered about the ceiling, and yet the cats were found sleeping on several pillows, oblivious to the tasty morsels swooping overhead.

“Anything could’ve happened,” observed owner Robert Beaty. “But luckily nothing happened.”

Rather than taking advantage of a bad situation for their human overlords, the cats and snake chose to look inside and find their better selves. Just because some neighborhood delinquents had violated the animals’ security was no reason for them to then turn on each other. The kind people who kept us locked in our cells will be returning quickly enough, they must’ve thought, and they’re sure to bring those dry brown pellets that provide us sustenance.

We congratulate these predators on their honorable display of restraint. It might be a dog-eat-dog world out there, but in a little corner of our hometown, the cats and snake have chosen not to participate. And for that, we pay tribute.

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3 Responses to “I sternly decry the newspaper editorial”

  1. goinglikesixty Says:

    Bingo!

    You nailed it. Newspaper editorial pages are irrelevant. If the newspaper takes on a serious topic, it just pisses people off and they quit taking the paper.

    The result is the pap you cite because the corporate owners sure don’t want to piss anybody off.

    Yet newspapers still have an editorial page – every friggin’ day!!! Such a waste of space.

    Same goes with the TV magazine – and the daily TV grid. (With only 1/4 of the channels listed that are available.)

    But, God forbid if anyone suggests this newsprint is being wasted on crapola.

    BTW: I think our newspaper tackled the same hard-hitting issues you cite.

  2. Matt Shaw Says:

    I agree.

    I can barely make it through an editorial. To be honest, I rarely try.

    I wonder if the anonymity of the editorial is somehow uninspiring; I mean, who wants their best work to be unattributed? Perhaps the lack of individual recognition in the format prevents the writer(s) from taking a risk they otherwise would as a columnist.

    Great post.

  3. wrjones Says:

    I was attacked by a woodpecker. He/she drew a lot of blood from the top of my head. It was startling. However, hard to imaging closing a trail for such an incident.

    What is the explanation for young people rebelling against the establishment?

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