Sunday, September 24, 2006
Opinions, point/counter point, pontificating on controversial topics. This is what I imagined might take place at a Steamboat Pilot & Today Editorial Board meeting when I took on my role as a community member of the Editorial Board. My preconceptions were only partially realized.
My first observation was that the Editorial Board does not have an agenda. The board is comprised of five staff members and two at-large community members, all with a balanced range of opinions. As Tip O'Neal used to say, "All politics are local." This is definitely true in our Yampa Valley community. Politics are not as simple as left wing vs. right wing, Republican or Democrat. While some readers may assume a newspaper staff may be a bastion of liberalism, what I found was that the Steamboat Pilot staff was most interested in fairly evaluating a topic and then arriving on a viable position for an issue.
There was a desire to maintain objectivity by the staff writers. If the Board felt there was a conflict of interest in writing an editorial on a specific topic, the Board would request another member of the staff to write the editorial.
The Steamboat Pilot & Today is a commercial venture designed to deliver news to public at a profit. The Editorial Board, however, never cautioned about putting an issue on the table because it may offend an advertising patron. There were no taboo topics, and all issues were potential subjects for a discussion.
The single most important observation is that the editorials written by the staff are composed to challenge community members to think about an issue. By definition, editorials are written to take a position on an issue. It is easy with 20/20 hindsight to take a position and criticize a prior decision by a local governmental body. But I found it was much more than being an armchair quarterback.
The staff's goal was to research a topic as completely as possible within the time constraints of writing two editorials a week. If the Board decided it required more investigation and verification, then it would often postpone an editorial to make sure we had the correct facts before finalizing the editorial. Newspaper staff writers are not designed to be experts on each issue, but have a goal to learn enough about an issue to accurately report the news. From an editorial perspective, the same goal is applicable. The goal is to investigate an issue and then provide the reader with information so they can then form an opinion. Challenges were frequently issued to local government and other people in leadership positions in the Yampa Valley.
The goal of the Editorial Board is to have everyone think and re-think the issues in hopes that we can all continue to improve the quality of life in the Yampa Valley. We should all feel lucky to have the quality of the staff employed at the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Finally, I would encourage any interested community member to give back to the community by serving on the Editorial Board. As with anything that is worthwhile, it will require a small time commitment, but the benefits you will receive are far in excess of the time spent helping form the opinions of the Editorial Board.
Scott B. Gordon is president of Alpine Bank in Steamboat Springs. He served on the Steamboat Pilot & Today Editorial Board from May through August.