Hemig: The Union’s new community editorial board | TheUnion.com

Back to: TWI

Hemig: The Union’s new community editorial board

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union

"How could you put Stan Meckler on the editorial board?" was one comment I received.

"Reinette Senum is an interesting choice for The Union's board," was another emailed to me last weekend, after The Union announced it would add eight new board members to create a 15-person community-based editorial board.

The Union posted this announcement on TheUnion.com and shared the story on The Union's Facebook page last Friday and ran the story in print on Saturday. The emails, texts and calls started shortly thereafter.

After trying to defend one choice or another, the conversation usually turned to, "What is the editorial board, and what is its purpose and task?"

If we do this right, The Union will better represent the many segments of our community. And we will truly be the voice of western Nevada County.

I wanted to take this opportunity to explain just that.

First, I thought I'd add that The Union doesn't have an official policy or set of rules on either having or running an editorial board.

Neither does The Union's parent company, Swift Communications. We do have an editorial ethics policy that guides us toward journalistic integrity, but nothing stating whether we should, or should not, have an editorial board.

Last year, Editor Brian Hamilton formed an editorial board of both community members and employees from different departments within The Union.

I witnessed the benefits gained by seeking topics, issues and ideas that would provide content options and decisions for the newsroom.

The Union is the largest news organization in western Nevada County. In simple terms, we have the most feet on the street and ears in our community to seek and report news and information.

But even a newsroom of a dozen people still faces quite a challenge in covering news events and local issues for the thousands of people living in our community.

Enlisting others to help provide The Union with feedback and story ideas did provide a conduit from outside the newsroom.

Forming an editorial board worked. I commend Brian for providing that leadership.

When I arrived, I asked if this group could be enlarged to include more members from our community and cover a more complete representation of the different segments of our part of the county. I wondered if more could be better.

After the June election, Brian and I invited representative members from many of the different political parties and other organizations to provide feedback to our primary election coverage. During those conversations we asked whether or not we were fair in our coverage. Most felt we were generally consistent with the election stories.

In these meetings, the topic of our editorial board was a constant question. Folks wanted to understand if the board was as balanced as our aim for election coverage. These questions prompted my earlier thoughts on expanding the board to include others.

Brian and I asked the people providing election coverage feedback for ideas about the editorial board and any possible recommendations. Names and phone numbers started flooding in.

So we looked at the current board and the list of proposed names and wondered if we could expand the "community" aspect of the our editorial board by dropping employees and adding more people from outside our walls.

We currently hold daily and weekly meetings in the form of stand-up "huddles" with The Union employees, so we maintain a connection to their story ideas and feedback.

Adding more community voices could increase the feedback and ideas dramatically. But who do we add?

Brian and I are in agreement that The Union should represent the community and should provide a voice for all segments.

To do this we need to listen to and represent them all. This made the selection process easier. We decided to pick folks for the board who fairly represented the diverse make up of western Nevada County.

We issued invitations. To my surprise, all but one accepted. The Union now has a 15-member community editorial board that equally represents our community.

Forming a well-balanced community editorial board isn't easy. Managing these 16 diverse personalities is even more difficult.

Our first meeting was Wednesday. To respect the time commitments of our board members, we wanted to hold the meeting to an hour. But introductions, photos of each board member for a story next week and discussing future story topics dragged the meeting out later into the night.

Giving everyone a chance to offer their opinions wasn't easy in such a short time frame. But the level of politeness and civility was notable.

We were able to discuss a few ideas for upcoming editorials and Brian was a note-taking machine.

I was happy with the end result of many new ideas and opinions that The Union can explore in near-future stories and features.

So back to why Meckler and Senum?

I believe Steve Rosenthal, owner of Tess' Kitchen, said it best when he emailed me a comment he intended to post on a local blog regarding the subject:

"It is my understanding that what The Union is trying to do is ensure that the community as a whole is being represented on its editorial board. Just because people have differing views in the community doesn't mean that they shouldn't have the right to have them voiced. I applaud the paper for creating a diversity of thought on its editorial board. I feel the paper needs to be the voice of the community and this board, like it or not, is a reflection of our community."

To our knowledge, this is the first time in The Union's 150-year history this has happened, and the first time I have personally seen this level of engagement at any newspaper. For those people who contend newspapers are a dying breed, I offer this example of what a newspaper means to a community.

What's on the horizon? I believe great things are in store. Each board member has been encouraged to write opinion pieces and help The Union provide a balanced forum of community dialogue. I'm hopeful our readers will notice this addition.

If we do this right, The Union will better represent the many segments of our community. And we will truly be the voice of western Nevada County.

Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at jhemig@theunion.com or at 530-477-4299.