Grading the Editorial Sections of Newspapers in Georgia

Good editorials are hard to find in Georgia it seems. Here in Macon they died long ago if they ever existed at all, but I decided to take a look at a few other cities across the state and see how they fared.

What Constitutes A Good Editorial?

Before I examine various newspapers, it is important to establish a baseline and get a sense of what most people will consider to be a good editorial. Good writers never lie or cherry pick the facts that support their opinion while ignoring the ones that don’t. Instead, they respect the facts, and if necessary they change their opinions accordingly.

Editors, by and large, are reticent people, with a magnified sense of their own importance and I certainly fall into this camp as well. I hope fellow editors can take some ego puncturing in good humor. The very first criterion of a good editorial is to act as a local opinion maker. If it is based on evidence, so much the better. A good editorial must offer objective analysis and necessarily must also express an opinion and defend said opinion.  It must present a refreshing perspective on an issue so as to retain balance when writings get opinionated. In my humble opinion, it should also try and stick to as many local topics and issues as possible. There are enough pundits bloviating about the Middle East and other national and international issues, so it is important to have a voice for local issues. Local issues after all are the ones that have the greatest impact on our daily lives and are often the least covered. 

A good editorial is also contemporary and tackles recent events and issues, and attempts to formulate viewpoints based on an objective analysis of happenings and conflicting or contrary opinions. A hard-hitting editorial is as legitimate as a balanced equipoise and tries to reconcile conflicting sides and bring clarity to issues that may seem overwhelming or confusing. It also has to be about balance and integrity. If the writer has a huge public conflict of interest then the readers will lose trust.

It certainly helps if an editor is a balanced individual by temperament as well which is an area I likely need to work on as my passion and anger sometimes shines through. But ultimately when you scratch the surface of any good editorial you will likely find a crusader and this is a good thing. You may not always agree with the opinions but you should at least be able to appreciate their passion and respect the case they present to support their conclusions. Writing in a literary style is also a much under-appreciated element. having a good flow and rhythm with your words along with some eloquence and clever turn of phrases will make readers enjoy your writing more than dull and dry writings that is as inspirational as a product manual. You have to capture and maintain their interest till the end.

 

How Do Georgia Editorials Fare?

I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the editorial pages from a few other towns in Georgia to my own town of Macon, Georgia. I will not include the Atlanta Journal and Constitution simply because the size and resources of that paper dwarf all the other ones in the state. They simply have far more time, talent, and treasure than any other city in Georgia.

Savannah

Savannahnow.com editorials They seem to publish editorials every two days and occasionally daily. I immediately noticed the inclusion of Guest Editorials which was refreshing.  The most recent topics included one about politics and our Georgia freshmen in Congress, a police shooting, the death penalty, hospitals in Georgia, Christmas and the Pope, a controversial religious bill proposed in Georgia, and an article over the Sony hack involving North Korea.

I read all of the editorials listed above and found them to be salient, informative, well-written whether I agreed or disagreed with the opinions put forth. I am a firm believer that local papers need to focus more on issues close to the community they serve but they still struck a good balance between local and national issues. Grade B+

Augusta

Augusta Chronicle Editorial I was unable to read many of the editorials here since they are far more strict about having a digital subscription. After reading a few I was blocked by a popup asking me to buy a digital subscription.  But from what I was able to read before I was blocked, they publish new editorials around every two days. They discussed a national dialogue on race, hypersensitivity and political correctness, Plant Vogtle’s water permit, a Christmas article, a story of forgiveness featuring an Augusta couple badly beaten with a baseball bat, a story about police lives also mattering, the Sony hack and the importance of standing up to dictators, a story about President Putin, one about revitalizing downtown Augusta, and one about not needing permission to record police.

Like the Savannah paper, I saw a mix of national with some local stories thrown into the mix. Also like Saavannah I was quite impressed with the tone and tenor of what I was able to read which came across as writing of a fairly high caliber even if I may have disagreed with the opinions expressed. One other thing of importance is the lively and numerous comments under the articles which you do not find at the Macon Telegraph website. Grade B 

Columbus

Ledger-Enquirer Editorials The first thing you will immediately notice is this website looks like a clone of the Macon Telegraph except in blue not red. This is because they are both owned by McClatchy and use the same format for all their papers to save money. When I clicked on Editorial It was even more sparse that the weekly edition in Macon and showed the two most recent editorials as dated October 2014 and the next most recent editorial all the way back in March of 2013. When you click on Opinion and not Editorial there is at least far more numerous articles. Although I am not sure it appears they do not have any full-time editorialist at their paper. Or at the very least they are not shown on the website.

Like the Macon Telegraph you immediately notice the lack of any comments under the articles and how few social media shares the stories receive. The design of the website seems very reminiscent of sites from over a decade ago and seems very much out of place in 2015. The site seems clunky and unintuitive and also blasts you unmercifully with an abundance of annoying ads. Grade F

Gainesville

Gainesville Times Editorial Although they are ahead of Columbus which seems to have given up completely,  they fall behind Savannah and Columbus on frequency. Recent editorials discussed police brutality, a look at local charities, medicinal marijuana in Georgia, difference in perception among races, the standard “giving thanks” at Thanksgiving article. Like Columbus and Macon this website seems dated and abandoned and the writing is not particularly good.  I stumbled across an alternative website call AccessNorthGA.com that seems far more intriguing. I am not sure if this site is digital only format or also offer a paper edition, but I suspect the Gainesville Times is worried by this competition which seems far more nimble and hungry to provide readers what they crave.

I had to penalize them for only having a weekly editorial but what I read was decent if rather bland and dry. They failed on several of my criteria for what constitutes a good editorial. Grade C-

Rome

Rome News Tribune This newspaper seems to have done away with a hired or full-time editorialist and instead chosen to allow only guest syndicated editorials from larger papers like the Los Angeles Times. I saw no editorials covering issues specific to Rome or Georgia. Grade F

Valdosta

Valdosta Daily Times The frequency carried from several of day at times to skipping a few days. This might also be due to the time of the year. Most of the links I clicked covered mostly local topics which I consider to be a big plus as this is sorely lacking across the state. However, I will have to mark points off simply for the shortness of the articles where the writer seems to think a paragraph should not include more than one sentence. When I read an editorial I need the full course not an hours d’ouvre. There was very little of substance to what I read and the writing was of a rather low quality. Grade D-

I apologize if I did not include your newspaper in the list above. There are simply too many in the state and I wanted to do a smallish sampling to compare other cities to the Macon Telegraph and thought six was sufficient for this purpose. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below on the editorials in your paper.

The Macon Telegraph

This is my local paper and I saved it for last. They don’t do so bad in terms of the frequency of their editorials but they fall flat when it comes to the subject matter, content and stylistic points. By that I mean they are short, boring, lack any depth or analysis, or are simply come across as flame bait. Most of the “editorials”  read like a Cliff Notes version of an article you would have read from AP or Reuters. There are very few editorials that go into any depth and none that I read that follow the basic guidelines I mentioned at the beginning of a good editorial. The closest comparison I could find in Georgia was the Valdosta paper.

Grade F

Charles Richardson is the editorialist for the Macon Telegraph and he has made himself largely irrelevant not only because of his conflict of interest involving his wife’s job with the Board of Education, but also because he is just such a piss-poor writer. The one I read today was almost laughably bad if it were not for the fact that it was intended to be taken seriously. He wrote an editorial called Put the Grinch Away A While Longer

A few choice quotes:

My wish for 2015 is more civility in society. I see and hear and read too many comments that do nothing to provide solutions for our many issues. I do see and hear and read a lot of hot air. Thing is, many of those doing the spouting have no skin in the game, but they think it their duty to opine anyway. Nothing is too insignificant for their wrath and most times they are totally ignorant of any back story.

And then there are the blogs where people choose to cut others off at the knees in a forum only they and their ilk read, watch or listen to. That’s called affirmation journalism. Most of it serves no real purpose but to throw stones from a soapbox of their own making. I’ve been the target more than a few times, but I’ve got the good sense not to be drawn into a digital battle that will never see a conclusion. People will believe what they want to believe about you. In the words of the Doobie Brothers from 1978, “What a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.”

We have an entire community that sits around adding comments to our stories (I’m sure this column will get a few) but many times, the comments have nothing to do with the article itself, it just gives them a platform to argue at each other about topics far afield. That’s OK if it floats their boats.

Now the gist of his article is he hopes to have more civility and more people filtering their thoughts before they spew out vile and hateful comments. On that point there is no disagreement and I think nearly all reasonable people would hope for this to occur in 2015. But that is hardly a very insightful editorial. It fails because it smacks of simply someone bitching that people need better manners. With all the problems with the Bibb county government, crime, pollution, and hundreds of other more pertinent subject matter… is an article complaining that people need to be nicer the best you could come up with? Maybe next week he will tackle the controversial topic that people should eat healthier and say thank you more often.  🙄

There is little doubt that the blog he was referring to in that quote above was yours truly. I have written several articles about Charles Richardson in the past over his unethical stance in support of Romain Dallemand as well as the fact that I simply do not find him to be a competent writer regardless of the subject matter. If I may quote myself from There is No Accounting in Macon 

I think Charles missed his calling. Instead of working as an editor, he would have made a great stenographer or someone that keeps minutes at meetings. An opinion editorialist and indeed any journalist has a number of duties and responsibilities to maintain their credibility and standing with their readers. Editors are supposed to look at the big picture and editorials are meant to influence public opinion, promote critical thinking, and sometimes cause people to take action on an issue. In essence, an editorial is an opinionated news story. They usually fall into four types 1) Explain or interpret 2) Criticize 3) Persuade and 4) Praise. I think we all know where Charles Richardson would fall when it comes to talking about Dallemand or Promise.

I actually went into quite a bit more detail as to why I think Charles Richardson should be fired and listed a number of reasons. If the poll at the end of this article is to be believed it seems I am far from alone. If you want to keep your job as as editorialist Charles, I suggest you step up your game in 2015.  Your sister McClatchy paper in Columbus seems to feel there is no need for one at all so don’t be surprised if Macon follows suit. I daresay you would have a tough time getting work elsewhere writing given the caliber of your work.

One catchphrase you can nearly always count on seeing in a Charles Richardson article is “skin in the game”. He uses it ad nauseam. Charles Richardson is extremely fond of that phrase and will always try and work it in no matter how ill-suited it may be. He reminds me of Rudy Giuliani and working 9-11 into any conversation even if you were asking about the weather.

A few Pointers and a Comparison of the Corpus of Work

Allow me to give you a few pointers Charles. Start covering local topics of import. read my guidelines above and follow them. If you read my blog and I am quite sure you do, perhaps you read my in-depth articles covering corruption at the Board of Regents, my stories of cronyism and nepotism here in macon and in the state government. I covered blight in Macon long before the Telegraph did their series and offered some suggestions for improvement.

I have written about medical marijuana, the injustice of the shooting of David Hooks with close to 2,000 Facebook likes which is a lot more than any article you have ever written I might add. I have written about the decline of the fourth estate, and the anniversary of the repeal of Glass-Steagall. I wrote about civil asset forfeiture, I educated my readers about why too many counties is hurting Georgia and spoke about direct say in Georgia government with referendums.

I educated my readers on their rights under Georgia Sunshine laws and explained their rights about video recording police.  I have covered finance, education, technology, numerous local stories of importance to Macon, and dozens of other subjects. I gladly welcome a comparison to the quality of my corpus to the pablum you spew out weekly that is forgotten as soon as it is read if it gets read at all.

Mr. Richardson, what exactly did you write in 2014 that you can take pride in or seems relevant now? Week after week you serve up inane and poorly constructed blather that is much ado about nothing.  If I were to ever meet you in person I suspect we would get along just fine. I do not dislike you as a person and I imagine you are quite the amiable fellow. But I do take issue with the fact if the Macon Telegraph chooses to hire and pay for a full-time editorialist we deserve more than vacuous fluff.

Half the time readers do not even know the point you are trying to make. Your editorials need to be more than just your winging and pedantic drivel. Pick some important local and contemporaneous issues and make your case.  Macon deserves an editorialist that speaks to the problems facing Macon and you are simply out of your league and probably better suited in another line of work. Until I start seeing some harder hitting stories that examines serious problems in Macon you will not earn my respect nor that of the larger middle Georgia community.

Screen Shot 2014-12-28 at 2.59.12 PMAnd by the way, you might want to check out how many Twitter followers I have on an account I just created a few months ago and take a look at your follow count before you dismiss my blog. I have over ten times as many as you.  I am also followed by the likes of David Perdue, Michelle Nunn, Casey Cagle, Most of the AJC staff, writers from the Washington Post, New York Times,  and numerous other notable people. You seem to be lacking clout in the social media world.

I would also like to correct yet another error in your editorial today.  I am confident you meant advocacy journalism and not “affirmation journalism” which seems to be a term you just invented. In any case, editorials at the end of the day should make a point which you fail to rarely ever do. I hope this article will help you make a New Years resolution to become a better editorialist if that is within your power. I am sure the irony of your advocation editorials in support of Romain Dallemand, Cliffard Whitby, and others went right over your head as you pointed your finger towards me putting aside the fact that editorials by their very definition are supposed to advocate an opinion. 

So Charles while you are writing your typical whinatorials that remind me of an old person telling young people to get of their lawn, I will continue to write about issues like heating assistance, Progressive Consulting, the missing $52 million, or shedding light on corrupt deputies responsible for the killing of an innocent man. You know, stories that actually matter to people in middle Georgia and beyond and let you handle the fluff.

I also hope Santa brought you a thesaurus for Christmas so you can retire your go-to phrase of “Skin in the game”. By the way,  I have a lot of skin in this game Charles which is exactly why I decided to start a blog and give the people of middle Georgia something they have been starving to read for a long time. Good editorials.  😆

 

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