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PAINTER: Opinions play a vital role for newspapers

• Feb 11, 2019 at 2:00 PM

The Rev. Henry Idema writes thought-provoking columns. Idema, a Grand Haven Tribune community columnist, touches on subjects that often stirs controversial debate. His January column titled “What is Putin’s vision for America?” was one of those columns.

He is isn’t afraid to express his opinions. The column about Russian President Vladmir Putin prompted a number of online comments, some of which were critical of him and the Tribune.

One comment that caught my attention was from someone who suggested that the Tribune should just print news and not opinions.

I would argue that printing of opinion articles have had a long history in the newspaper business. Expressing opinions in American newspapers dates back to the Colonial times. According to USA Today, George Washington and John Adams started the trend with how they used the press as a political organ. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were famous for championing issues through their editorials.

USA Today printed this quote from the late Wall Street Journal editor, Robert L. Bartle: “Editorial pages deliver the news of ideas, while other departments of the newspaper deliver the news of events.”

His quote was right on the mark. The editorial page of a newspaper, where opinion articles are printed, are vital to our democracy.

Newspapers, including the Grand Haven Tribune, are doing a great service by providing a venue for thought-provoking opinion articles.

In my 37 years as a journalist — mostly on small daily newspapers — we’ve always had an editorial page. The editorial page not only allows newspapers to express their views through editorials, it also allows readers to do the same. Community columns and letters to the editor are terrific ways to write what is on your mind.

The community column concept was started by former Publisher Mayer Maloney years ago. It is still thriving today with local columnists commenting on a wide range of topics.

While I use Idema as an example in this column, the Tribune has a fantastic lineup of community columnists, and has had so through the years. For example, we get to read about religious viewpoints, the views of a prominent college professor and family lives of other talented writers. We are fortunate to have so many talented writers live in our area.

It should be clear, though, that the opinions of community columnists are not (necessarily) the opinions of the Tribune. The newspaper’s opinions are expressed either through local editorials or staff-written columns.

An important role of a newspaper’s editorial page are the local editorials that are aimed at influencing public opinion and critical thinking. Publishers and editors will tell you that it is important to hold public officials accountable. The Tribune this month received two awards from the Michigan Press Association for editorial writing.

When I was managing editor, I was sometimes asked why editorials were unsigned. They are unsigned because they are the voices of the editorial board. When the Tribune writes an editorial, you will see a list of names of who is on the editorial board. Yes, one person may write the editorial, but the other members of the board contribute to its content. It is a team effort.

It also should be noted that an editorial is an opinion and not a factual news article.

It is OK to disagree with what a newspaper writes. You express your views through a letter to the editor.

With the proliferation of cable news networks and online sites promoting liberal or conservative views, it is understandable how some people might be confused by whether an article is news or an opinion. But opinion pieces in newspapers, such as the Tribune, are clearly marked.

Both news articles and opinion articles have a place in our democracy.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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