Marin IJ

Why newspaper opinion pages matter

Marin Independent Journal
Staff Report
Article Launched: 08/13/2007 11:06:26 PM PDT

TWO RECENT letters to the editor got us thinking about the purpose of newspaper opinion pages.

Both letters were about the Ross Valley flood fee vote.

The first attacked us for expressing an opinion on our opinion page. The letter writer expressed bafflement about why we did this, asserting that the IJ should never take a position on a controversial political issue. The IJ should report facts, opined the letter writer, not personal opinions.

The second letter argued that newspaper editorial writers have no superior knowledge or insight, and that there thus was no reason to care what the paper's opinion was.

Suffice to say, we are suitably humbled. And a bit chagrined. And most certainly misunderstood.

Do we believe we have superior knowledge or insight? No. We may, on occasion, be better informed. Information, after all, is our stock and trade. But we make no claim to superior intelligence, knowledge or insight.

In fact, the journalist's genetic makeup tends toward the dilettantish. As a species, we tilt toward a wide breadth of knowledge, but quite often that knowledge does not go deep. We are not academics who make a single topic into a life's study. Rather, we are generalists who bounce from topic to topic as the day's news demands.

But do we believe our opinion page has merit and value? Absolutely.

In great part, this is because our opinion pages reflect the opinions of our readers (and, sometimes, non-readers). In the case of the Ross Valley flood fee, for instance, we have published three post-vote editorials of our own.

To date, we have published 63 letters and three "Marin Voice" op-ed columns on the same topic.

In total, we have published 66 opinions from outside our walls, and merely three from within. That's less than 5 percent of the total.

Should you care about our 5 percent? Yes. But only because our opinion deserves the same courtesy as the other opinions expressed on this page.

Our opinion page's intent is to foster constructive and intelligent debate. We aim to give Marin County a place to talk to itself. We express our own opinion as a matter of duty. It is often the very act of writing that makes our thoughts cohere.

As we put words to paper, ideas take form and substance, and we hope that this substance nourishes the thoughts of our readers. We aim to be provocative and challenging, and to provide a strong point of view for your stimulation.

We do not agree with every outside opinion we publish on our opinion page, nor do we expect that you always will - or perhaps ever will - agree with those we express.

Marin County is a wonderful place to live and work, but it has problems and challenges. A good local newspaper offers, in addition to news reporting and other information, a discussion forum that allows public access to a large and engaged audience.

Our opinion page provides just that. We remain steadfast in our belief that the free expression of ideas and opinions serves the public's interest, and that newspaper opinion pages are an important and necessary ingredient of a healthy democracy.

Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360