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Our View: How the newspapers’ editorial pages work

As you may have read on this page a few months ago, the Durango Herald and The Cortez Journal have a new editorial page editor. This seems like a good time to re-acquaint our readership with the purpose of the Opinion page and what the editorial page editor does.

The editorial page editor is responsible for soliciting, selecting and editing letters to the editor, local guest columns and syndicated columns from regional and national sources to which the Herald and Journal subscribe. The editor is also responsible for writing most of the main editorials that appear on the Opinion page of the Herald and the Journal.

The company’s three-person editorial board meets weekly to consider the topics the editorial page editor should write about and what approach those editorials should take. The board consists of Richard Ballantine, chairman, whose family has owned the Herald since 1952 and the Journal since 1999; Doug Bennett, chief executive officer of Ballantine Communications Inc., the larger corporation that now owns the two newspapers; and Hollis Walker, the editorial page editor.

The newspaper’s editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper as expressed through the editorial board. Our intent is to formulate a big-picture view of a particular issue with an eye toward prompting the public to engage with the topic. In some cases, we intend to shape public opinion, such as when we endorse particular candidates or ballot issues. We try to avoid obfuscation and equivocation; we want the reader to come away with a clear notion of what we believe about a particular topic. We hope to provide information that may help readers make reasoned decisions of their own.

In the selection of syndicated columns, we endeavor to offer articles that will be of interest to our readers, for example, on topics such as water and land use issues particular to the American West. We publish columns written by local people on issues of regional significance, often on concerns related to government, and by leaders of various state organizations, including business interests and advocacy groups.

Our general policy regarding letters to the editor is to err in favor of publishing, as long as writers present their opinions and anything purported to be fact is verifiable. We believe the more the merrier. We may publish a letter to the editor even when we find it personally offensive.

Exceptions include letters that may libel an individual or are not factually accurate, and letters we believe many of our readers would find offensive, for example, including racial slurs. (That does not, however, include political viewpoints with which all may not agree.) Because we want to publish as many letters from as many different people as possible, we publish only one letter per writer each month and limit letters to 250 words.

It is our belief that in publishing letters representing the various opinions of our readers, we are all informed and enriched by knowing what our neighbors believe and value.

Sometimes we receive more letters than can be published in print in a timely manner; in that case, some letters may appear on the Herald’s or Journal’s websites, but not in print. Letters must be signed and verifiable. We don’t publish “open” letters to anyone besides “the editor” (no “Dear Congressman …”) nor do we publish form letters.

We selectively publish guest “op-ed” columns. We are looking for articulate pieces on topics that will educate, surprise and perhaps challenge readers. We are especially interested in representing the diversity of our community, including people of all ages, races, ethnicities, gender identifications and sexual orientations.

Finally, the editorial page publishes cartoons created by the Herald’s own incredibly talented staff member, Gary Markstein, and from syndicated sources including The Washington Post and Cagle Cartoons.

Generally, the Herald and Journal publish everything that appears on the Opinion page (except some syndicated columns) on their websites. Timing of appearance on the website does not necessarily coincide with print publication. Our intent is to provide an ongoing stream of editorial content for our growing digital audience while continuing to publish all or nearly all components of the Opinion page in print.

Sometimes, readers find the editorials, columns, letters and cartoons we publish offensive or in conflict with their opinions or feelings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We hope our Opinion pages make people think – and sometimes energize them to act. Our ultimate goal is to educate, inspire and support the development of the community – and we invite you, our readers, to participate.

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