A forum for viewpoints, including the other side

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

Twice last week the Empire heard from readers who complained specifically that we had published expressions of opinion contrary to their own. One concerned reader was a woman distressed that we had run a guest editorial about the tax cap to be decided in next month's general election. She was not mollified when she learned the Empire is likely to take an editorial stance compatible with her own feelings sometime closer to the election. In that case, she asked, why would we provide space for a differing opinion?

A man wrote to express the indignation he felt when he read a letter to the editor in which the writer said anyone who favored a road over enhanced ferry service could not be a true Alaskan. That was insulting to the follow-up writer who felt that he was as entitled to support a road as anyone else was to support fast ferries -- and just as much an Alaskan. Why did we print the first writer's comments, the second writer wanted to know.

The answer is so basic to our function that we sometimes are surprised when adult readers ask.

This newspaper, like almost all newspapers, dedicates a portion of its space every day to serve as a forum for the expression of opinion, including opinions from readers who disagree with each other and who disagree with the editorial position of the newspaper.

Newspapers that accommodate only one side of an issue have failed all of their readers, including those whose side finds its way into print. The role of a newspaper is not the same as that of government, social activists, politicians, talk show hosts and their guests, the sellers of some consumer products, or advertising and public relations firms under contract to a company or a cause. Each of them generally advances one point of view at the exclusion of others.

The Empire tries to provide readers with a first and a second -- and a third, fourth or fifth -- opinion about the issues encountered by members of our community and residents of our state and nation. Eventually you and we will make a decision and go with or against a candidate, a tax proposal, a change in the way we govern ourselves or whatever we face. The best decisions are those made by an informed electorate. And, at the risk of repeating ourselves and contradicting the spinmeisters, an informed electorate is one that has been exposed to different points of view.

From two weeks before through two days after the Juneau elections, the Empire printed 15 My Turns, 80 letters to the editor and a handful of cartoons, editorials and staff-written columns about the people and issues on the ballot. (We also printed some letters that had nothing to do with issues on the ballot.) We devoted a significant number of extra pages to these expressions of opinion. Eventually, we ran out of time and space, but by then most writers were adding their "seconds" to opinions previously published. Approximately 10 letters and My Turns were left over. All were "seconds." Thus, we accommodated about 90 percent of those who contributed a letter or a My Turn.

We are grateful to all who contacted us, including those who found fault with our news coverage, and even the man and woman who were upset that we devoted space to opinions different from their own.

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