Ask A Pro
Editorial page editor
Examples of Work
An immigrant's tale
There's just one catch
Chavez's crash and burn only partly her fault
editorial page editor
Austin (Texas) American-Statesman
What inspired you to become a journalist?
Actually, I fell into it by accident. A friend of mine was a reporter on the San Angelo Standard-Times and told me one day that there was a reporter opening there. He encouraged me to apply. I told him I didn't know anything about the business. I was a history/government major with aspirations of going to law school. He told me not to worry, that they would teach me what I needed to know. I applied and was hired. After the first few months, I knew I had found my life's work. I forgot about law school and haven't regretted this choice for a moment. (Well, maybe a moment, but not much longer).
How did you train for your current job?
I wrote a column that ran three days a week on local politics. That helped because commentary writing is difficult (or at least not as easy as it looks), plus I got a first hand look at how the community operates and how its priorities are established.
What's an editorial board and who is part of it at your paper?
The editorial board consists of the publisher, the editor, the editorial page editor, the deputy editorial page editor and the three editorial writers. Rounding out the group are the designers and the cartoonist. We don't meet formally as a board very often. The day-to-day decisions are usually made by me, Deputy EPE Maria Henson, the editorial writers and the designers and cartoonist Ben Sargent. I encourage editorialists to come up with their own topics on the belief that they will be more enthusiastic about advocating their own ideas than ones I assign them.
Why do people who write editorials usually work separately from the rest of the newsroom?
The theory here is that we are in the opinion end of the business and the reporters are in the news end of the business. Their mission to is to report the news as objectively as possible, while ours to comment upon current events. There is an invisible wall between the two departments so that editorial opinion doesn't drive news gathering. That doesn't mean we never talk. We have to, but I try not to exert undue influence over news gathering.
Do you have an opinion on everything?
No. Sometimes the opinions I do have change if the information that comes my way changes my view. Opinions should live and to live is to change.
How do you research topics you write about?
I read a lot. I use the net. I use reference books. I talk to experts.
How many editorials do you write a week?
Three or so. Sometimes more depending on the need.
Do you interact often with readers?
Yes, by phone, by email and in person. I appear before groups. I like to schedule lunches with the people we write about. I spend a lot of time doing that.
How do you bring different voices and points of view to the editorial page?
By encouraging people to write either when I meet with them in person or by printing invitations for reader contributions. For example, we asked readers to share their memories of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and were flooded with letters and photos that we packaged to recognize the event that began World War II. We've done that on other topics as well.
Can you still be fair to different parties when you're writing from a point of view?
Yes. You can acknowledge their point of view on issues. An example of that would be "Opponents of the proposal argue that it wouldn't work, is too costly and might even harm the people it was intended to help"
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?
READ. Read everything you can. Don't be shy about asking people about their stories. LISTEN to the stories. I tell groups that I speak to that there are journalists and there are story tellers in our business. Journalists, I contend, want answers to their questions, which can often miss a lot. Story tellers, on the other hand, want the story. And the only way you get that is to encourage the subject to talk and he or she can't talk if you're flapping your lips.