I’ll often get calls from readers upset over what they perceive to be bias in The Times Leader’s coverage. Frequently, their proof of this bias is an editorial that we printed in our Opinion page or Sunday’s Opinion section.
Yet we have a divide between our opinion coverage and our news coverage. They’re separate, they’ve always been separate, and they’ll always be separate.
We go through great lengths to ensure that separation exists.
First, some background. Our Opinion page and Sunday’s Opinion section are largely the work of one person: Mark Jones, our opinion editor. Mark is our lead editorial writer. He writes with purpose, authority, knowledge and a sense of fairness. There’s no more potent combination for an editorial writer.
While Mark generates many ideas for editorials himself, he also relies on ideas prompted by our Opinion Board, which — in addition to me and Mark — includes:
• Walt Lafferty, our general manager and regional business development manager.
• Dotty Martin, editor of our Community News Group.
• Sara Pokorny, reporter at the Weekender, our alt-weekly.
The Opinion Board meets weekly to discuss topics that might make for an editorial. We don’t always agree on everything, but we come to a consensus opinion that is represented in the daily editorial you see on the Opinion page. Out of the five of us, zero are involved in the day-to-day news-gathering operation of The Times Leader. That’s squarely in the hands of City Editor Dan Burnett.
Just as Mark would never exert his influence over reporters in the newsroom, Dan would never try shaping one of our editorials with his opinion.
Sometimes, conflicts of interest arise. If a member of the Opinion Board belongs to an organization that might be the subject of an editorial, that member recuses himself or herself from that part of the discussion.
As a result of the way our Opinion Board is structured — relying on a three-fifths majority opinion — there are times when Mark might write an editorial with which he himself disagrees. (And that, to me, is the mark of a skilled writer, when you can write passionately about a view you don’t share and make it sound convincing.) Because we are writing as the newspaper’s voice, we don’t tell readers who agrees with which stance.
Our Opinion page also has been infused with more of your voices. We’re continuing to provide a number of locally written columns on the page, and — in addition to your letters to the editor — now run two additional pieces of your content.
Our editorials are posted in advance online, allowing us to provide your “Instant Feedback” in print to the editorial we’ve written. We cull those comments from what you leave us on Facebook and timesleader.com. Sunday’s Opinion page also features feedback posted by readers like you on our news articles online, as well.
While we absolutely share our opinions about local topics on the Opinion page, we do not do so on our news pages. They’re separate, and with good reason: Our credibility is our most important franchise.