Good news, Philly: this weekend's one hour longer, thanks to the end of daylight saving time. Did you set your clocks back? With all that extra time, you'll want to take a moment to read a new in-depth investigation from the Inquirer and the Boston Globe. The report reveals that a 2002 pledge from U.S. bishops to snuff out sexual abuse in the Catholic Church failed to police one group — themselves — leading to the crisis the church faces today. And, if you've ever wondered about the differences between letters to the editor, editorial and opinion pieces in the paper (and who's behind the Inquirer Editorial Board endorsement guide), you're in luck. Deputy Opinion Editor Erica Palan explains it all in this week's "Behind the Story."
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Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week, reporter Katherine Nails asked Deputy Opinion Editor Erica Palan about opinions, editorials, endorsements and everything in between, including questions from our readers.
What is the role of the Deputy Opinion Editor?
I'm responsible for making sure we have timely, unique, and thought-provoking Opinion pieces on Philly.com and in the Inquirer every day. The goal of the opinion pages is to provide a platform for a variety of voices and viewpoints — including our audience and civic leaders. We do this, not only because those voices and viewpoints are valuable, but because they can provide understanding and insight into complicated issues facing our region and world.
Readers should feel like they can find pieces that affirm as well as challenge their points of view. The value of this is that it allows readers to gain a deeper and richer understanding of how the news impacts people's daily lives and to explore viewpoints that they might not have previously considered.
What's the difference between an editorial, a column and an opinion/commentary piece?
An editorial is the institutional view of the Inquirer's Editorial Board. Topics vary, but editorials are often focused on local/regional issues. When we're choosing editorial topics, we often ask ourselves, "How could this editorial make change?" Editorials are unsigned. In print, editorials always run in the space with an Editorial label. Online, you can differentiate an editorial from other content, because the word "Editorial" appears in the headline and the Inquirer Editorial Board is the author.
A column is written by one of our staff columnists. (That is: People we employ specifically to write opinionated pieces.) Columnists often do original reporting for their columns, but they aren't reporters. Reporters are required to write without an opinion. In the print paper, you can tell something is a column because the author's photo will appear with it. Online, you can tell a columnist's work because his or her name will appear at the end of the headline. Some columnists have particular beats — like Trudy Rubin, who writes about international affairs — while other columnists are generalists, writing about topical issues that vary from column to column.
An opinion or commentary piece is written by someone outside our newsroom. The author could be anyone from an elected official to your next door neighbor. While columns appear throughout the paper, opinions (or op-eds, meaning opposite of editorial) run on the editorial pages at the back of the A section. You can find our Opinion section online at Philly.com/opinion.
We also run letters to the editor, which are direct responses to particular stories or issues. You can send your 200-word letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the Inquirer Editorial Board? How does it relate to the rest of the newsroom?
The Editorial Board is a group of writers and editors who are tasked with defining the institutional point of view of the paper. The team includes former reporters, columnists, and editors. The Board operates separately from newsroom, which means that while we talk often with our news-side colleagues, we are editorially independent. (That means that reporters and news editors don't get to weigh in on what's written in an editorial and the Editorial Board doesn't get a say in what kinds of news stories are written.) The Editorial Board is part of the larger Opinion department at the Inquirer.
What are endorsements, and why does the Editorial Board publish them?
Prior to each election, the 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. Then, the Board hosts meetings with candidates from the major parties running in those races. (Read our endorsement guide here.)
Because it's often hard for voters to get a clear picture of what candidates stand for, we take this job seriously and spend time researching the candidates. We dig into their positions on the issues we think are most important for their constituents and prepare questions to guide conversation.
After the meetings, the Board deliberates. Based on our research, our discussions with candidates, and positions we've taken on issues in previous editorials, the Board makes a decision about which candidate to endorse. Sometimes, it's an easy choice and sometimes there's a lot of debate amongst our Board members. Sometimes, too, the choice is hard; when we prefer "none of the above." But we believe any choice is better than sitting out an election. We know you may not always agree with our views, but our ultimate goal is to help you understand the positions of candidates so you can make the most informed decision on Election Day.
Where do opinion pieces come from? How are they chosen for publication?
Opinions can come from anywhere and anyone. Many people — ranging from elected officials to everyday Philadelphians — send in pieces for consideration. I also do targeted outreach to potential contributors based on the news of the day. Sometimes it will be someone from an advocacy organization writing about a piece of legislation. Other times, I'll see a smart take on Twitter and ask the person to expand their thoughts. Sometimes, we'll do a call out for our readers to share their opinions on specific topics.
We also partner with organizations such as the Washington Post, The Philadelphia Citizen and Manhattan Institute's City Journal to share newsworthy viewpoints that our readers might have otherwise missed.
It's tough deciding which pieces get published. We only have so much space in the paper. Editing each piece requires an editor to fact-check, shape arguments, smooth out language, do digital and print production, copy edit and more. When making choices about what to publish, we consider factors such as quality, timing and balance of coverage. Some subjects generate a lot of submissions; that's when we especially look for fresh perspectives.
How can readers submit opinions?
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