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The power of opinion in pictures

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Wouldn’t you know, I was setting myself up when I wrote the column last Saturday about plans for dealing with mistakes in The Union. Of course, there hasn’t been a day since (except for Sunday – when we don’t publish) that there hasn’t been an error, some more noticeable than others.

The day of that column, we had the exciting story of the nip-and-tuck football game between Nevada Union and Grant, which started late, ran late, and had to be written on (actually after) deadline. There was a rush to start the press, and spell-checking was neglected, resulting in a rash of typographical errors.

As the week went on, there was a wrong photo, a misspelled name, an unclear election explanation, a misspelled headline. And here was a mistake I had a hand in, a misinterpretation of a ballot process. I’m afraid to look at the corrections on Page 2 today.



There is good news and bad news in all this. The good news is that each error was different, so we are avoiding repeats. Perhaps our plan to nip recurrences in the bud is working. The bad news is that there are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of different types of mistakes that could turn up in a newspaper.

Sigh.




And of course, the irony did not escape our loyal readers, who gave me a good ribbing via e-mail or phone. However, it is these picky people we are trying to please, so thanks for keeping us on our toes, and helping us follow through on our promise to be accurate and credible.

Another mistake this week bears more discussion. Wednesday’s opinion page included a cartoon from a reader poking fun at apparent Board of Supervisors winner Drew Bedwell. Unfortunately, the line showing the cartoon’s author and hometown was missing. It was on the page at one time (the cartoon was drawn by David Briceno of Alta Sierra), and we’re still trying to figure out where it went.

A few angry readers thought the cartoon was drawn by The Union’s staff cartoonist and represented the newspaper’s opinion of Mr. Bedwell. We’re flattered readers think we’re large enough to have a staff cartoonist, but in truth, the local cartoons on our opinion pages come from members of the community. The others are by nationally syndicated cartoonists.

Just as The Union is blessed (most of the time) with readers who are eager to contribute letters to the editor, we’re also fortunate to have talented artists who share their opinions in pictures, rather than words. We appreciate two of them – Bob Crabb and John Carr – so much that we pay them a bit to grace our pages weekly (although not even close to what they’re worth).

The other cartoonists take pens to paper for the same reason that letter-writers do – to get an audience for their opinions. And just as letter writers can get a little rough on politicians, so can cartoonists. But since, as it’s said, a picture is worth a thousand words, the impact of a cartoon is much stronger, particularly to those whose favorite cause or politician is being skewered.

We try to exercise the same control over cartoons as we do over letters, watching out for personal abuse, name-calling and the like. However, politicians and other public figures are generally fair game for cartoonists. Look at most issues of The Washington Post.

The problem is that in Nevada County, contributing cartoonists seem to be of a liberal bent. Mr. Bedwell, whom we’ve found has a well-developed sense of humor, shared with us his response to a supporter who was upset with The Union over the cartoon about him:

“Since I’m a cartoonist and have sent in the same ‘written’ word to The Union in the past, I’m in no position to complain. Like it? Whoever would, but it is, after all, an expression of opinion. The only thing that irritates me are the whiskers, the stupid elephant, and my profound statement. I shave regularly, elephants don’t talk too much (punching on each other), and any time I say ‘right,’ I normally say ‘very right, sir!’ At least I put my name on my cartoons.

“Take care and don’t be too angry at The Union, they’re just doing their job of keeping everyone mad at them. That is the only gauge they have that tells them that they’re doing their job ‘very right, sir!'”

We really don’t want everyone mad at us. It just seems to work out that way. So while we know that Drew, Robin Sutherland and Sue Horne have thick skins, we’d like to give them a break occasionally by running cartoons from conservative cartoonists. If any of you are out there, please send some.

Meanwhile, let me read this column over and do another spell check – just in case. . . .

Richard Somerville is editor of The Union. His column appears every Saturday.


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