Jim Hemig: The editorial page challenge?
The Union’s circulation team reliably sends me an email each time a subscriber quits their subscription. I don’t receive these daily, but one or so a week usually keeps me on my toes.
We get the occasional price objection. Some folks say it only takes a few minutes to read the paper, which might be followed by another cancellation because they don’t have time to read so much news.
But an email the other day stopped me in my tracks. My circulation supervisor forwarded one now former subscriber’s comments that he canceled because he feels the publisher is “too progressive.”
He did say that, “They may restart again after a hiatus.”
So, I suppose if I become less “progressive” he will return. Good to know.
I received this news the same week a small team from the Nevada County Republican Women Federated asked to have an audience with Editor Brian Hamilton and myself. This group has visited before. They are so nice and polite, always have worthwhile feedback and a polished presentation to share with us.
This visit from the NCRWF was to share an audit they conducted on The Union’s editorial page from Aug. 1 through Oct. 3, 2015. Someone from their team read each submission to The Union’s Ideas and Opinions page (page A4, each day), categorized each by author, cartoon, Other Voices, Letter to the Editor or a regular columnist. Then the auditor listed each opinion piece topic and ranked it as being from a conservative, liberal or neutral point of view.
First off, I was completely flattered that someone would read and rate every submission on The Union’s editorial page. I get the reader survey results so I know that this section is popular, but every opinion piece read and judged? That’s an impressive commitment. This means our grader has allocated a lot of time to read the paper. Maybe I should get them in touch with the former reader that only needed a few minutes to read the paper?
I asked the group, “So, how did we do?”
My NCRWF friends had a print out of the results in the form of an organized spreadsheet. Quickly turning to the last page with the total count I discovered the reason they wanted to share the results with us — liberal opinions won the contest. They came up with 90 conservative submissions, 140 liberal and 99 neutral opinion pieces. I don’t know if I’d agree with their judgment on which submissions are conservative or liberal, but they politely said they view the opinion page as more liberal leaning.
All of this attention to the editorial page reminded me of the Nevada County Democratic Women’s Club meeting that Brian and I were invited to speak at last year. One woman questioned The Union’s editorial slant because she counted published quotes from both conservative and liberal politicians in a story last year. She concluded that with more quotes from a conservative, The Union’s reporting is biased. The piece she cited was a Congressional update from Congressman Doug LaMalfa. The Union decided to give Congressional candidate Heidi Hall a chance to respond even though that was not the purpose of the story. Apparently, offering both sides a chance to weigh in isn’t enough; we need to count quotes … or maybe we need to count words and letters to make sure we don’t show any bias?
I have also been criticized and called a “Tea Party and State of Jefferson supporter,” and had my voting records “outed” supposedly labeling me as a member of a hard-right contingent.
I find all of this interesting. I’m on the “inside” of this publishing process and know that we don’t run one viewpoint over another or favor one political stance over an opposing side. We do run what we get, though. Sure, we favor local viewpoints over state or national opinions and we prefer to run timely topics rather than more stale or overdone comments. But we run what is submitted. If we get more liberal submissions, or the alternative, so be it. I remember last election when I was accused of being a Terry Lamphier supporter because we had so many support letters for him and so few for Dan Miller. Well, truth be told, we had 10 to 1 Lamphier to Miller letters. We ran what we received.
Sure 140 to 90 seems a little skewed. But nothing like other publications and Internet blogs that only cater to one political leaning. The Union is fair to both sides, but apparently both sides think the other side has the upper hand.
But in those numbers I see the 99 that were deemed neutral, close to as many as viewed slanted. So, The Union does provide balance, with roughly 1/3 of the content for each conservative, liberal and neutral.
With this assessment of each editorial piece I had to wonder if my recent subscriber cancellation due to me, personally, being “too progressive” would hold up under this judgment. I wondered how conservatives rate my columns.
Within the timeframe of the audit I had published eight columns. One was deemed conservative, one liberal and six neutral. Do you suppose neutral could be the new progressive? The lone liberal piece was my making an awkward comparison between Donald Trump and fictional movie character President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. I suppose that could be viewed as liberal. And the conservative-graded piece was my column suggesting we should learn about homelessness efforts from other counties in our region. Since when is helping the homeless a conservative agenda?
I suppose all of this comes down to opinion; your opinion, my opinion, conservative and liberal opinions. Each of us is different and we likely view this newspaper from our own political, economic and social perspectives. If each of us “graded” the opinion page content we would likely all come up with different numbers.
Along that vain, I would like to ask you, the readers, to do just that for the month of January and share your conclusions with me. I’m interested to see how you would rate the Ideas and Opinions page. It will be fascinating to see if The Union’s readers’ numbers came out the same or different.
Are you interested in taking the editorial page challenge? Email your conclusions at the end of January to email@example.com and I’ll mention the results. I can’t wait to see if I’m conservative or progressive.
To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4299.
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