Saturday, May 26, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

David Kushma

Why aren't editorials signed? Here's why

I DON'T listen to talk radio, but I'm told a local host routinely beats up on The Blade's opinion pages for not identifying the writers of individual editorials.

He raises a fair question, although I suspect fairness to The Blade is not uppermost in his mind. The letters to the editor that we publish include the writers' full names and home communities - or, for Toledo contributors, the street on which they live. Sometimes, this identification subjects letter writers to harassment by knuckleheads who disagree with them but are too cowardly to respond to their opinions properly.

We don't publish anonymous editorial cartoons or op-ed columns, either. So why should editorials be different? Why aren't they signed?

There's a simple explanation, for those who are willing to hear it.

Our editorials aren't signed because they don't have individual authors. They represent the official opinion of The Blade as a newspaper, and the collective judgment of our editorial board.

We aim to speak with a single voice, while maintaining individual writers' style, and to uphold The Blade's longstanding principles.

Each morning, I convene a meeting of the editorial board - Associate Editors Kendall Downs and Rose Russell, and our staff cartoonist, Kirk Walters. Several days a week, the dialog also includes Marilou Johanek, who writes op-ed columns and editorials for us.

Separately, I speak at length every day with The Blade's publisher and editor-in-chief, John Robinson Block. As you might imagine, he is not shy about advancing the policy prescriptions he wants this newspaper to espouse.

In these conversations, we discuss topics in the news: local, regional, state, national, and international. We determine which issues we want to address in our editorials, whom we need to talk to, which arguments we want to make, and which positions we seek to advance.

We talk about ways to research a topic and to anticipate opposing arguments that we need to consider. Only after an issue is thoroughly ventilated in this fashion, and a consensus reached, do I assign the editorial to myself or another board member.

Jack Lessenberry, The Blade's ombudsman, also contributes editorials as well as columns. On occasion, we publish editorials on national and foreign topics prepared by our sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Obviously, we ensure that the views expressed in these editorials concur with The Blade's own positions.

If my colleagues and I were to sign the editorials we write, it would be all too easy for our detractors to dismiss them: "Well, that's just Kushma's opinion. Who cares what he thinks?"

Instead, our editorials are the product of an institutional consensus, not merely a collection of individual viewpoints. They reflect this newspaper's fundamental values, which have been honed over 175 years of publication. That's what gives them the force and community influence they command.

I can already hear the objections: "How can an inanimate object have an opinion? How can anybody argue with an 'institutional consensus?' That's just an abstraction - a way to evade personal responsibility for what you publish."

Not at all. If you want to hold someone personally responsible for everything that appears on The Blade's opinion pages, including the editorials, you're looking at him. That's the essence of the editor's job description.

And if you're wondering, reporters and editors in The Blade's newsroom have no role in forming the newspaper's opinions. I may ask a newsroom colleague who is an expert in a particular issue for background information, but that's as far as it goes.

Similarly, I wouldn't presume to tell our news staff what stories to cover. The separation of editorial opinion and objective news reporting - or, as we call it, "church and state" - is something we take seriously.

Perhaps three times in the past half-century, an especially personal Blade editorial has included the initials of its writer. Otherwise, our policy on unsigned editorials is hardly unique. I'm not aware of a major American newspaper that identifies the writers of its individual editorials.

I think most readers will understand this policy - except, of course, those readers and others who are determined not to understand.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

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