Each week in the weekend edition of the Inquirer Morning Newsletter, we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. Recently, we chatted with deputy opinion editor Erica Palan about what The Inquirer’s opinion team does and what the Editorial Board considers when endorsing candidates. The Editorial Board has endorsed Joe Biden for president.
How would you describe the opinion team’s role in the newsroom?
While the rest of the newsroom is focused on reporting unbiased and objective news stories, on the opinion team, we believe that it’s important to highlight perspectives and points of view so that readers not only know what’s happening, and they have a take on it. We believe that there is a power in helping people make up their minds about an issue by reading the opinions of people who they might agree or disagree with.
One of the most gratifying aspects of working in opinion is that it’s not uncommon for our work to have a real impact on the region. For example, a recent editorial project spearheaded by Abraham Gutman exposed concerns that Philadelphia’s tenants do not receive final notice before evictions, leaving them blindsided. Following the publication, City Council passed a resolution to hold a hearing about the privatized office that executes evictions. The resolution specifically cites the editorial and its recommendations.
Can you describe your job on the opinion team? What does your average day look like?
As the deputy opinion editor, I manage most of the day-to-day operations of the opinion section, which includes our two daily (print) pages and our Sunday Currents section, as well as the opinion content that appears on Inquirer.com and in The Inquirer app. Recently, I’ve also been involved in our team’s digital events strategy. For all of this, I work closely with opinion’s managing editor Sandy Shea and our coverage editor Elena Gooray.
My day begins at around 6:30 a.m. when I wake up and scroll through news from overnight. Over breakfast — tea and a green smoothie — I listen to news podcasts to keep my finger on the pulse of national and foreign news, which is especially important because I edit Will Bunch, our national columnist, and Trudy Rubin, our international affairs columnist. I try to sit down at my desk to review new pitches before the newsroom’s all-editors' Zoom meeting at 8:15 a.m. That meeting is invaluable because I hear what every other desk is working on, giving me a head start in thinking about topics and issues that the opinion team will need to tackle.
In the afternoons, I dive into editing pieces, reviewing pitches, and doing outreach to potential writers about future pieces. I aim to end the workday by 5:30 p.m. so I can take a long walk, where I’ll listen to more news podcasts and take about a zillion photos of the Delaware River, and then have dinner with my husband, who is a great cook.
What is the Editorial Board and how do they decide what to write about?
I’ll take this answer directly from our online explainer: An editorial is an opinion about a matter of public interest or policy researched and written by our Editorial Board, a group of journalists separate from the newsroom who meet frequently to discuss and debate issues. Unlike news stories, which are fact-driven and written by reporters, editorials advocate, champion, argue, critique, and suggest ways to make the region better.
The Editorial Board currently includes the three opinion editors, our two columnists, two full-time editorial writers, and our editorial cartoonist. The board routinely discusses issues of the day to decide what to editorialize on and, during election campaigns, which candidates or ballot measures to endorse. News reporters and news editors do not participate in these discussions. The Board’s opinions are not a consideration in news coverage.
What all goes into considering any endorsement? And is there anything specific considered for a presidential race?
Prior to each election, The Inquirer’s Editorial Board identifies the races where an endorsement can help readers understand where candidates stand on issues and why we think voters should support (or not support) a particular candidate.
We think all elections are important and try to cover as many as we can. In elections like the one this year, with many races and candidates, we have to make the hard decision to limit our endorsements to highly competitive races and local ballot questions.
The Board hosts meetings with candidates running in contended races, where we ask them about themselves and their stance on the issues we think are most important to their constituents. The meetings are on the record, which means anything discussed can be reported and recorded for the Editorial Board’s internal archives. Political reporters and editors are invited to participate, but they do not weigh in on the endorsement process.
For the general election, we did not meet with the presidential and vice presidential candidates but researched them heavily and closely monitored their platforms, public statements, and debate performance.
One thing made this endorsement cycle unusual for us: In December, the Editorial Board called for President Trump to be impeached, an opinion we stand by today. So we knew that our endorsement had to go beyond the usual choice of one candidate over another. Instead, we honed in closely on the issues facing Pennsylvania and explained where we believe Trump’s presidency has failed and how we hope a Biden presidency can undo the damage.
What else can readers expect from the opinion team in the next few weeks?
Ha! If 2020 has taught me anything it’s that even the firmest plans can get thrown out the window when big news breaks. You think it’s going to be a normal week and then the presidential debate is bonkers and we have to react to that. Or civil unrest breaks out across the nation. Or RBG dies. I’m really proud of how nimble our opinion team is when it comes to reacting to breaking news. There are evergreen issues we always care about — the addiction crisis, fracking and the environment, gun control, housing and homelessness, criminal justice, to name a few. But my favorite days are when we wake up and think the news of the day is one story and then it turns out to be something completely different, so our team has to band together and hustle to find interesting perspectives and voices to weigh in.
What is one thing you wish more people better understood about your job?
Anyone can write an op-ed or opinion piece! I always tell people that the op-ed pages are open to everyone. I once ran a piece from my fifth-grade teacher and the next week, I ran a piece by the vice president of the United States. We are constantly looking for pitches from anyone and everyone. Here are our general guidelines.