EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Questions & answers week

#Every once in a while in Editor’s Notebook, I will respond to questions from readers. Some questions are fairly common, some unusual, some have been asked in conversation and others via email or at public events. Those selected for inclusion will be of some interest (I hope) to other readers. Feel free to shoot me over any questions you might have, whether looking for an answer personally or interested in it being shared in this forum. Please include your name (as I am still learning people’s names around town), even though I won’t include those in this column.

How much independence do you or your editorial department really have when it comes to editorial positions? Doesn’t the company call the shots?

With very, very few exceptions, editorial positions are defined in the editorial department right here on Fourth Street. Our owners are many, many miles away and certainly aren’t following, much less dictating opinions on local issues. Positions are therefore dependent on the editorial department since we cover and understand the issues upon which we editorialize. The one exception to the company issue that I am aware of is when it comes to national endorsements. When/if we endorse in the presidential race, the company will speak via all of its newspapers in a unified voice.

Does the newsroom ever close completely?

Yes, after the first newspapers for the next day roll off the presses, the editorial department clears out completely and remains so until early in the morning when the first staff members arrive. Ideally, I would say we would like to have someone on duty 24/7, but the reality of the market doesn’t permit that and it is rare that anything requiring immediate attention happens in our dark hours. Should anything arise, since our staff members live here, once one of us became aware of it, we know how to reach one another and can mobilize if needed.

You say you do, but why would you publish op-ed pieces that contradict your own editorial positions?

Because if we all agreed, it’s possible we could all be wrong. Wouldn’t that be a disaster? Hey, we have opinions but we respect other people’s right to disagree. I realize that is an old fashioned notion today. If you disagree these days, you’re called a “hater” or worse. Heck, the U.S. Attorney General wants it to be a crime to disagree with the president! This is scary fascist mojo and sadly, many big city newspapers have fallen into it. We still think it’s possible for people to disagree without being disagreeable and we think the more voices in a debate the better chance someone will come up with a better idea. Plus, the more perspectives included, the more readers engaged. A few weeks ago, we were running letters and op-ed pieces opposing the #MakeMinot measure at the same time we were endorsing it. We published a letter critical of a local business initiative instituted by Visit Minot even though we support the initiative. We ran letters critical of our endorsed candidate in the governors race on the GOP side. Personally, as the person fielding op-ed type pieces, I am mostly looking for thoughtful and interesting regardless of the position.

Do you feel bad if someone appears in a story you publish and that person comes out looking badly?

No, if someone comes out looking badly in a story, there is a reason for that and it isn’t that the newspaper is out to get him. Someone recently asked me if I set about to agitate a certain local public figure in every edition of the newspaper, and the truth is that I rarely have given that public figure a single thought. That’s just not how it works. There are occasions when pure circumstance places a person or entity in a story which might not reflect well and there is no casualty, but news is news, you mitigate in how something is covered, but you have to move on. If you get gun-shy, you can’t do your job.

What can the newspaper do to help guide the city to improvement?

That’s the responsibility of a whole lot of people and institutions, first and foremost. That said, the best ways we can help are to foster the marketplace of ideas I write about often, to go out and seek opinions and advice from sources who are global experts, and we can hold the powerful responsible for their part in progress.

Why has the newspaper’s website disabled reader commentary?

Unfortunately, we weren’t getting reader commentary. We were getting troll commentary. Trolls are these miserable little people whose life revolves around spreading ugliness and hate from behind anonymous cyber handles. Trolls chase away actual readers and make actual discussion impossible. Every news entity today is trying to figure out how to handle trolls since online commentary too often demonstrates the absolute worst of the worst in human nature. Maybe one day we can find another way to enable comments in which people have to use real names. In the meanwhile, we’re posting major stories on Facebook and discussion is picking up there. Plus, top comments have a chance to show up in print. If you haven’t already, I suggest you connect with MDN on Facebook.