Readers have opinions on opinion pages
A recent column I wrote about newspapers across the country trimming their opinion pages drew quite a few interesting reactions from readers.
I pointed out that Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, is urging its papers to reduce the number of opinion pages it publishes each week while removing unionized columnists, unsigned editorials and mentions in federal races. The company says “readers don’t want us to tell them how to think” and that opinion pieces perform poorly online while causing subscription cancellations.
Gannett’s strategy is based on reader survey data. Based on my own experience in The Gazette opinion factory, I argued that the channel was likely chasing angry conservative readers. I also argued that in these times of lies and misinformation, cutting off reasonable and factual commentary is a bad idea.
But you may remember that I said that not all conservatives feel that way.
“I hope The Gazette retains its opinion content,” one reader wrote in an email. “I think it’s good to hear all points of view, especially if they’re well written. Getting angry is juvenile. I don’t know if this rating from a conservative guy will make a difference, but at least that’s my opinion.
He was not the only one.
“I just wanted you to know that I am a conservative who reads the opinions section (dare I say) religiously. This is where I find reflection for or against an object. This is how I learn,” wrote one reader.
He then questioned my views on abortion with great respect and thought. Not once did he urge me to leave the state. Refreshing.
Much of the response I received was positive. Most people rated the Insight page and its content, both in print and online.
“The Insight pages of the Gazette are, for me, the best and my favorite part of the newspaper. Their loss is yet another example of the “dumbing down” of America. Lord knows, enough is enough! a reader wrote.
Another reader wrote, “I’m voting to KEEP the Insight Page 7 days a week. It’s important to hear the views of our neighbors and the community at large. Thursday’s Insight page is my favorite.
I like Thursdays too, except for the grumpy guy who keeps complaining about the governor.
“We have been subscribers for 13 years and read Insight regularly. Keep it up!” wrote another.
There were, however, dissenting opinions on opinions.
“How do you see with your head so far in the sand?” started an email. Here we are.
“I avoid your articles because you are completely biased (what I get is part of an opinion) but you most often refuse to see the other side of an issue and just assume that all conservatives are bad, racist, transphobic, homophobic, etc. etc. etc.,” he wrote.
“So keep producing one-sided sludge with your blinders on why MANY readers are avoiding the opinion page and choosing to cancel their subscriptions,” the reader wrote.
Another reader who identified as a conservative said he values opinion content and worked for many years as a journalist.
“But stop blaming the deplorable Hayseed Tories for criticizing The Gazette. We are so fed up with the misrepresentation of our positions. From the lazy stereotype. From a Sunday forum that abandoned us, ”he wrote.
It’s true, I hate rotten policies and laws. But the idea that I hate preservatives is an overreaction for effect. My family is full of them. I grew up in a conservative part of rural Iowa. And there are plenty of conservatives that I’ve covered over the years that I admired.
When it comes to racism and transphobia, when conservative politicians seek to target trans kids for discrimination, pass bills designed to block white kids from hearing anything about true black history making them uncomfortable in the classroom and increase penalties for protesting right after Black Lives Matter activists demonstrated across the state, what conclusions should I draw?
People on social media also weighed in. This comes from The Gazette’s Facebook page.
“Maybe your opinion columns should be of higher quality.
“Perhaps your opinion writers should have more diverse opinions.
“Maybe your opinion writers should be people who aren’t completely out of touch.
“Perhaps your opinion pages should contain articles from people with opposing views.
“Maybe your opinion pages should have more guest posts.
“Perhaps your editorial boards should have more diverse backgrounds and ideologies.
“Perhaps your editorial boards shouldn’t be ice cream cones or ivory towers disconnected from their readers.”
I try to write better quality columns, I swear. And I really feel like a maverick living in this blushing state. But I think we provide a range of opinions and a lot of guest columns. I understand that our editorial board is currently small and needs a greater diversity of opinion.
A self-licking ice cream cone, in case you haven’t heard, is an organization whose sole purpose is to maintain its existence. Or, perhaps, check your grocer’s freezer case.
Another comment on Facebook was more constructive.
“One of the biggest problems is that too many people can’t tell factual stories from opinion columns/editorials with facts, and the process that goes into writing each. Perhaps instead of eliminating or reducing opinion pages like Gannett does, newspapers could spend some time educating readers, so they know the difference.
It is definitely worth it. This is something we will be discussing in the next few days. Thank you all for reading and weighing.
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