Understanding pieces of the Opinion page

Posted 9/9/18

A recent “Letter to the Editor” signed under the anonymous heading of “John Q. Public” came as a reminder that not all readers of the Cleveland Daily Banner understand the makeup, and the …

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Understanding pieces of the Opinion page

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A recent “Letter to the Editor” signed under the anonymous heading of “John Q. Public” came as a reminder that not all readers of the Cleveland Daily Banner understand the makeup, and the mechanics, of the Opinion page.

In his writing, Mr. Public tasked Cleveland’s community newspaper to identify the writer of our locally produced editorials while mistakenly referring to them as “letters.”

He also jumped aboard the anti-media bandwagon by suggesting we are “biased” in our coverage of the American president, and that we are among the commander-in-chief’s list of “haters.”

Both assumptions are subjective based on his preconceived notions, and each is untrue.

But first, let’s clarify the components of our newspaper’s Opinion page, what they are called and how we distinguish among them:

• Editorial: When this heading is used in the space on the left side of the page, it means it is locally written by an editor employed by the Cleveland Daily Banner. In recent years, virtually 100 percent of the in-house editorials have been written by Rick Norton, an associate editor in our newsroom whose duties are shared between local news development and Opinion page editorship. In some instances, the editorials are proofed for content by Banner Publisher Ralph Baldwin, but not all. When an opinion piece is labeled “Editorial,” this means it reflects the newspaper’s collective opinion; therefore, an individual byline or photograph is not used.

• Viewpoint: When this heading is used in the space on the left side of the page, it means it has been written by someone other than the Banner editor. The writer will be identified by name, and in some instances an accompanying photograph will be used if it is available.

Editorial Cartoon: These caricatures are provided through Cagle Cartoons, a newspaper syndicate with a nationwide membership. By their very nature, editorial cartoons are traditionally the most contentious part of an Opinion page. Here at the Banner, we receive more complaints about the editorial cartoons than any section of the newspaper. For the record, our newspaper rejects the vast majority of cartoons submitted by the syndicate.

Letter to the Editor: These are opinion pieces submitted by outside writers, normally — but not exclusively — from the local community. Published letters include the writer’s name and town of residence. In addition, we require home addresses and telephone numbers for purposes of verification, although neither is published with the letter. 

Personal Column: These are opinion pieces — also called a “Commentary” — submitted by in-house Banner staff writers and editors, as well as guest columnists from inside and outside the Cleveland and Bradley County community. Writers are identified by name and in most cases columns will include a mugshot of the writer.  

Dear Annie: This is an advice column written by syndicated journalist Annie Lane that is published in newspapers across the country. It is included in almost every edition of the Banner.

Today in History: This is a history column provided by The Associated Press. It provides information about key news events of the past and when they occurred. It also includes a list of celebrity birthdays for that date. Today in History is published in the Banner as needed, based on space availability.

With few exceptions, the above listing represents the fabric of our Opinion page. 

We’ve given today’s space to this breakdown of the Opinion page because of a specific paragraph in Mr. Public’s letter. It reads, “I’ve noticed that the Banner has recently run four long diatribes … with no name of who is writing. Who is responsible for these opinionated articles? You won’t accept a letter from the public without a name! So, why is it okay for you to print a letter with negative origin from a nameless person representing the Banner or some other newspaper? You call these letters to the editor. Who is the editor of the letters and articles?”

With all due respect to Mr. Public, we don’t call them “letters” and they are not “articles.” They are “editorials,” written by a Banner editor. Their authorship is no mystery, as we’ve already said. His name can be found on the right side of the Opinion page masthead.

Although much of Mr. Public’s letter served to defend President Trump against his antagonists — and more power to him for voicing his opinion — his concerns made it apparent we need to do a better job spelling out who does what, and how we do it, on the Opinion page.

In closing his correspondence, Mr. Public dared us to publish his letter under its facetious signature. Because his concerns point to a misunderstanding of the Opinion page and how it operates, we met him halfway.

By the way, we agree with his letter’s closing assessment. He believes Melania Trump “… is the most beautiful First Lady to ever grace the White House.” He adds she is also intelligent, speaks five languages and deserves to be treated with dignity.

All are excellent points.

There’s much to be learned from John Q. Public … from whatever walk of life he treks. The key is to assure he is given a voice, and that we — his community newspaper — are willing to listen.

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