Our opinion and occasional lack thereof

One increasingly common occurrence around the Minot Daily News newsroom is readers suggesting the newspaper take editorial positions on one topic or another. Just as we receive numerous leads and requests to explore stories and address rumors, we also hear from advocates for one side of a debate looking for editorial support.

Last week offered plenty of examples of this. It isn’t the subjects, though, that make this relevant to this week’s Notebook. Instead, it is the dynamic of what occurs when this happens.

The important point is this: MDN doesn’t take positions on every topic, even every contentious subject, because as an entity, we don’t necessarily have a clear position. Particularly careful readers will note the number of times the paper’s editorial addresses a principle or concept, while adding that we don’t have a position on a specific instance relating to that principle.

We’re very proud to help inform the public and we frequently offer our advice as a well-informed entity on subjects of the day. We’ve discussed before the lively debates in the newsroom, the importance of the input from a veteran staff and the basic principles that guide Minot Daily News opinions.

Sometimes, MDN doesn’t take a position on a subject because we as an editorial staff/board disagree so widely on a topic that it is too challenging to come up with a strong opinion to which to stand behind.

Other times – in fact, more frequently than you might imagine – an issue is too vague or too complicated for us to feel competent in formulating an opinion. We don’t “speak” as an institution on our editorial page just to have our voice heard. We try to avoid being reactionary or entirely political. We also try to be consistent. After years of not routinely offering an official opinion, we now have for some 500 days-plus and principled consistency is essential.

Finally, unlike many scientists and politicians, MDN has no issue of hubris – that is, we can acknowledge sometimes that we just aren’t sure what the best position is on a topic. We take our editorial position seriously and don’t want to muddy the waters when a lively debate is under way. While MDN has no problem being critical of politicians’ decisions and positions, we also respect their responsibilities and the availability of data to them.

Oh, MDN has taken controversial positions at the behest of readers, both general readers and political leaders who have sought our support. We are extremely proud of leading the way the past two years discussing the opioid epidemic (which was prompted by readers); we are proud of supporting the effort to change the structure of city government (which was prompted by activists); we are proud of sounding the alarm about the shocking change in flood insurance (which was prompted by a former city council member). There are numerous other examples.

However, we are also proud to have let certain issues be debated and decided without weighing in on them with our own aggregate opinion.

In each case, understand that it is a conscious decision, not a lack of passion or concern. It is a manifestation of our best effort to be fair, honest and aware of our own role and limitations. If, with all of our awareness, access to information, relations with government officials and general guiding principles, we don’t feel we know what is honestly best for the community, we aren’t going to impose our opinion on readers.

That’s just not right.

Agree or disagree with our positions, supporters and critics alike should know the process by which we create editorial positions is hardly arbitrary or without thought.

So, for those readers who wrote or called last week – or any week – understand that we hear you, we evaluate your request and we act when we can on suggestions for editorial positions. I can assure you this: we have taken positions based on reader comments and requests on issues which we might have otherwise overlooked, we thank you for all of the input and suggestions and as sure as the sun rises in the morning, it will happen again in the near future.

I recently responded to a critic that “It is easy to think of newspaper as a nameless, faceless entity. But, the reality is MDN is made up of people who work very hard, work very long hours, love what they they do, love our part of the world, and do the best we can.”

That is very much true when it comes to the editorial positions we take.

We continue to solicit, enjoy and even formulate our positions based on what we hear from readers. Please never stop sharing your thoughts. They are essential in the development of the newspaper. And, as always, you know how to reach me.