The Opinion page

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 30, 2005

Regular readers know that from time to time I like to write here about internal processes at the newspaper, particularly. I generally try not to &uot;defend&uot; what we do, but rather try to explain how we come to do the things we do. A community’s newspaper is, after all, a quasi-public utility and I think it’s important that we be open about such things.

Mr. Fisher’s follow-up letter above regarding our choice of editorial cartoons on inauguration day seems to provide an ideal segue into how our editorial page is put together.

Our goal at the News-Herald is to be an all-local paper. Where that is sometimes difficult is on our editorial page. With our small staff, it’s some times a stretch to fill five pages of all local opinion each week, but that is our goal and most of the time we do a pretty good job of it.

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The page has four basic elements – local columns, letters, &uot;Our Opinion&uot; and a cartoon.

The columnist schedule now is Tuesday, Roger Leonard; Wednesday, Evelyn Wall; Thursday, Robert Pocklington; and Sunday, Pocklington and me. We do not presently have a regular columnist on Fridays. Florence Arena, managing editor Luefras Robinson, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Beverly Outlaw and sports editor Jason Norman are occasional columnists. We also like to run local guest columns when we have them.

Several times over the past four years I’ve offered city personnel the opportunity to write a regular column – both as a way to communicate better with residents and to offer a counter viewpoint to something we may have written, but they have yet to take me up on the offer.

We highly value letters and attempt to publish all within a day or two of receiving. We give them the highest spot on the page to show their importance. E mail letters to I can think of few that have not made it into print. They have to be really offensive. Unlike many papers we put few restrictions on style, length or frequency in order to encourage more submissions. The best read letters are those that are brief and stick to a single topic.

&uot;Our Opinion&uot; is the newspaper’s official stance on whatever issue we have selected for the day. It is generally written by me, Robinson or occasionally other staffers. I’ve often been concerned that &uot;Our Opinion&uot; was unsigned. We require letter writers to sign their name, we should have the courage to do the same. So recently I experimented with putting initials on the Our Opinions, but others here felt that made it more of a personal opinion rather than that of the newspaper and I suppose they have a point.

That brings us to our editorial cartoon – apparently the bane of Mr. Fisher’s existence. Not having an artist on staff, we are forced to turn to a syndicate for this material. I’ve tried doing it myself but my stick people just don’t seem to have the impact we need. I don’t suppose there’s a law stating that an editorial page has to have a cartoon, but it would be a gray and foreboding page without it and would likely turn people off.

The small syndicate we selected has a stable of six or seven cartoonists from large and small papers throughout North America. Most days there are several cartoons available, but invariably some are too localized to the cartoonist’s market, leaving us only two or three that are general enough from which to choose.

I try never to use cartoons with any type of religious imagery. They are invariably misinterpreted as blasphemous. It’s simply not worth the trouble.

Invariably, most of the cartoons that are available to us poke fun at the president. That is the essence of political humor — making fun of those in power. The choice of cartoon has nothing to do with the political leanings of anyone at the News-Herald. There just aren’t that many cartoonists out there anymore still making a living by making fun of Bill Clinton.

And yes, I think that if our brave troops can tolerate getting blown to pieces in the desert, then the president should be able to tolerate a little good-natured criticism for sending them there.

The same syndicate that provides us with cartoons also offers three columnists – Howard Dean, Michael Reagan and Dick Morris. Reagan and Morris are Republicans. Dean is a Democrat. We don’t like to use any of them but from time to time have to when we don’t have adequate local opinion to fill the space. We try to mix it up and give as much Reagan and Morris as Dean.

I think the News-Herald opinion page does a good job in providing a cross-section of opinion. In 2003 it was voted the best editorial page in Virginia for newspapers of less than 20,000 circulation. We’re proud of that.

Leonard is conservative, as is Pocklington. I consider myself more of a libertarian than a liberal and the syndicated ones also run the spectrum.

Our mission is not to regurgitate the most popular or inoffensive opinion, but to challenge the popular opinion and attempt to spark debate. I think we do a pretty good job of that. When you come right down to it, in terms of producing this page, I’m more interested in what is happening on Market Street in Suffolk than I am in Iraq, Washington, D.C. or even Richmond.

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, we’re always interested in your thoughts about our editorial page or any section of the paper. Feel free to email or call me about anything you see in the News-Herald. I love talking about the newspaper, particularly to people who pay to receive it, and will do my best to explain it.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 93409611, or via email at