I sometimes joke with Rob Douglas that his columns aren't worth the complaints I receive about them. But the truth is, I was thrilled when he recently agreed to sign on for a second year of penning Friday opinion pieces for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Whether or not you agree with the positions he takes, Douglas' columns spark discussion and debate about important local issues. There's tremendous value to that, particularly for a community as passionate about those issues as ours is.
Before Douglas became a weekly fixture on page 2 of the Friday Steamboat Today, I felt the newspaper lacked a local opinion writer who wasn't afraid to tackle the big issues. From calling for Sheriff Gary Wall's resignation, to taking the Pilot & Today's Editorial Board to task, to criticizing the decisions of city government, Douglas certainly has accomplished that.
The fact that I get as many compliments about Douglas as I do complaints tells me a voice like his is important - those who agree with a particular position he takes feel as if their opinion is being represented and shared with the community; those who disagree have reason and motivation to speak up in opposition.
I've been told by more than one reader that Douglas' column should appear in our ViewPoints pages alongside other op-ed pieces. I disagree. Most readers recognize opinion when they see it, and everything about the page 2 placement of Douglas' "The View From Here" column screams opinion, from the title of his work to the design characteristics we use to distinguish it from our regular news articles.
Some readers also complain that Douglas' column and his conservative positions on some issues reveal the newspaper's "right-wing bias." Of course, they don't know that although I'm registered as an independent, my voting record would define me as a Democrat. I'd like to think my support of Douglas' column instead reveals our commitment to providing a range of viewpoints to readers, whether from nationally syndicated columnists such as Maureen Dowd and Ann Coulter or from local writers such as Douglas or representatives of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and the Routt County Democratic Party.
To be clear, none of our local columnists - be it Douglas, Joanne Palmer or longtime Pilot & Today reporter Tom Ross - are told what they should write about. Their column topics are entirely of their own choosing, as are the stances they take. There's been more than one occasion when I've loudly disagreed with Douglas about his take on an issue. But that's never stopped me from giving the piece a green light for publication, even knowing I'll have to defend his work to readers whose differences with Douglas I often share. And I still get a kick out of that irony.
Please feel free to share your questions, comments, criticisms or compliments. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-871-4221.