Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Want to improve your editorial page? Here are expert ideas

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors was founded mainly to advance the cause of editorial leadership in rural newspapers. It remains journalistically focused, and the hallmark of its annual conference is still the small-group sessions in which attendees critique each other's editorial pages and editorials. After the 2022 conference in Lexington, Ky., editorial-critique coordinator Tim Waltner gathered up a list of "best practices" from the session leaders for the August ISWNE newsletter. Here are most of them, with a few adds from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which hosted the conference, in parentheses:
• If you’re serious about improving your editorial page, make it a priority.
• Build slowly. A strong editorial page requires patience and a methodical and consistent approach that will appeal to readers and gain their confidence.
• Package content appropriately. Clearly label editorial pages.
• Avoid having news and editorial copy on the same page, but if it can’t be avoided, clearly label news and opinion. (If you're short of opinion material, local-history articles can work.)
• Content should drive editorial page layout/design. Editorial pages are serious content and shouldn’t have fonts/design that make it look like a feature page.
• Use a different font or point size for editorials. (Or a wider measure, set ragged right.)
• “Sell” your page through effective headlines/pull quotes/photos/graphics.
• Local, local, local draws readers to the editorial page(s).
• Lead the community discussion; others will follow.
• Look at moving away from submitted columns by politicians unless they’re addressing a specific and relevant issue. These should be rare and possibly not in the editorial pages. Or just take the politicians off the page and get local commentary.
• Be sure that all readers, including those who just moved to town, can understand the basics of what you’re talking about, even if it means rewriting the same boilerplate you’ve used a thousand times.
• Don’t write too long. It’s better to write two short pieces that are tight, insightful and/or entertaining than one longer piece that is stretched to fill the space.
• There is no need to add a disclaimer at the end of the editor’s column, such as this one: “The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of
the newspaper staff.”
• Encourage letters to the editor. They matter. Letters show how a community interacts and feels it can interact with the newspaper and other readers.
• Give a word limit and put an address at the end of all letters. (One paper requires and runs the full address of all letter writers, but there wasn’t consensus as to requiring a street address.)
• Make sure you indicate where readers can submit letters, the requirements and the process.
• Suggest promoting letter writing at the end of the year by recognizing all letter writers and the number of letters written that year.
• All editorial page items written by staff and others should be tagged at the end of the item with contact information: name, title/position, email and phone.
• Editor and staff contact information should be in an easy-to-find location on a consistent basis on the editorial page.
• Consider including contact information for elected officials (local, state, federal).
• Easy-to-add items that readers might enjoy: Quote of the week from a news story. Poll questions on current issues (but in publishing results, note that the sample is self-selected and thus not scientific).
• If you include your membership in a state or provincial press association (or a national one) in your masthead, add ISWNE and use our quill logo.
• Look for ways to add artwork onto the editorial page, such as mugshots of column writers. Syndicated cartoons are OK, but if you can find a local cartoonist, such as a high school art teacher, that’s even better.

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