What is The Signal trying to accomplish?
Tim Whyte · April 13, 1997
What are we all about? What is The Mighty Signal all about? More specifically, what are we trying to accomplish on our opinion pages?
That was one of the questions posed and answered a couple of weeks ago in a guest column we published by Bruce McFarland.
I've gotta hand it to Bruce. I appreciated his column -- its compliments and its criticism. He made me think about what we do here, and why. His column was an attempt to explain the editorial "policy" of The Signal, despite the fact that he's not really sure what it is. And in doing so, he raised a helluva point: We at The Signal, and in the newspaper business in general, don't often enough tell our readers exactly what it is we're trying to accomplish, particularly on the opinion page.
Perhaps, in the long term, this means we should develop a carefully thought-out "editorial mission statement" and publish it from time to time. But at least for now, and with particular focus on the opinion pages, I offer the following from the hip:
First and foremost, like any community paper, our goal on our news pages is to report all that is newsworthy to our readers, as objectively as possible. But here on the opinion page, we openly acknowledge that we have a stake in this community -- as individuals and collectively, as a business -- and will be the first to tell you what we think is best for it.
That's the driving force behind our unsigned editorials, always labeled, "Editorial from The Signal." That's where we tell you the newspaper's opinion, on a variety of issues, on local, state and national levels. Regardless of the topic of the day, the big-picture mission of our daily editorial (OK, we take Mondays off) is to promote that which we think is in the best interest of the Santa Clarita Valley and its residents.
You may not always agree. And that's OK.
Because, going beyond our editorial-writing mission, is our larger-scale mission to provide a forum for an exchange of ideas. Yes, we can shape the debate and influence its direction via the decisions we make on editorials and placement of things like letters to the editor, cartoons and guest columns, but in the grand scheme our goal is to provide everyone -- even those who disagree with us -- an opportunity to have their views published in their community newspaper. The possessive modifier is no accident; we want SClaritans to consider this their newspaper, and while they won't agree with everything on the opinion page, or every decision we make as editors, they should always feel as if their thoughts, responses and input are welcome.
A good recent example is the exchange of fire that has occurred here as a result of Councilwoman Jill Klajic's notorious letter to the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, urging the disapproval of Santa Clarita's request for $60 million in federal road funds. We editorialized that Klajic was wrong, and we stand by our position. But Klajic's supporters disagree, and the end result is a significant number of letters -- from both sides -- on the issue.
We'll publish them all. It may take a little while . . . but they'll all get some ink. Yes, we hope the end result will be that the majority of Santa Claritans agree with our position, because that's what we think is best for the valley. But facilitating an open exchange of ideas, of agreement and disagreement, is a major part of our role in the process.
As Bruce wrote, if we think a City Council member has acted irresponsibly, we will make sure he or she is "thoroughly chastised in print." Then we'll let the responses fall where they may.
Beyond politics, that means we'll publish a few things that not everyone appreciates. Bruce pointed out that we've taken heat lately for publishing religious letters in our "letters to the editor" section. I've had some heated conversations with a critic or two about this subject. "Put the sermons on the religious page," they'll say. "Other newspapers do it."
Maybe. But on our opinion page, it's our goal to provide the most unrestricted forum we can. There are obvious limitations, taking into account anything that's potentially libelous, in extremely poor taste or just plain incoherent. As gatekeepers, we try to keep the gates open but, when we feel morally, ethically or legally compelled, we'll withhold something.
That doesn't happen as often as some people would like, but in the trade-off, we hope, is an opinion page that most people consider accessible.
Its space is available to those who want to write about politics or those who want to tell us how to save our souls. If you see something you don't like, skip over it. Hopefully, you'll find the next letter or column to be a more tasty morsel.
That reminds me. Bruce lamented that some of our columnists -- I presume this was directed toward me -- don't stick to politics or other traditional "news" issues. Sometimes we write about our children, or a walk in the park, or a trip to Disneyland, or an important event in our lives.
That won't change, Bruce. Sometimes, I'll tackle a local, state or national issue, or release a burst of fire at an irresponsible politician. Sometimes, I'll discuss newspaper policy or First Amendment issues.
And sometimes, I'm going to write about my kid.
Whatever the topic, I'm trying to observe and learn about life -- specifically here in Santa Clarita -- and, hopefully, share a lesson, opinion or even just a chuckle. Not every column or editorial will reach every reader, but hey, that's part of the beauty of getting to do a new issue of the paper every day.
Whatever the topic, our goal is to promote discussion and help the Santa Clarita Valley continue to be a great place to live. It may be corny, but we care.
It's my hometown. It's your hometown. It's ours. And so is the newspaper.
Tim Whyte is the magaging editor of
The Signal. His commentary appears on Sundays.
© 1997, THE SIGNAL -- ALL RIGHTS RESERVED