The Sentinel's new managing editor, Dale Shrull, has introduced an intermittent segment called "Miscellaneous."
Sometimes, readers have questions that don't require a full-blown news story, but still deserve answers. The Miscellaneous segment covers those on an as-needed basis. For example, a reader wanted to know why convenience stores scan his identification card when he buys a pack of smokes. Turns out, it's not for collecting data — just verifying that an I.D. card hasn't been doctored.
Interactions between readers and the newsroom are instructive. Feedback informs the choices we make in presenting news — and opinions.
Most newspaper readers understand the distinction. But hardly a month passes that an angry reader doesn't call the editorial page editor to complain about "bias" in the Commentary section.
"Bias" is the entire point of the Commentary section — the part of the newspaper where opinions are expressed. Everything on this page — whether it's a cartoon, a letter, a column or an editorial — is an expression of someone's subjective point of view.
Newspapers inform public opinion in two ways. First and foremost, they report the news as objectively as possible through articles or stories. But they also publish editorials (what the newspaper's editorial board thinks about important issues of the day) and letters to the editor (what readers think is important). Opinion pages serve as the "forum" function of the newspaper where the marketplace of ideas lives.
Interestingly, we get about twice as many calls about editorial cartoons as anything else.
We subscribe to syndicated columnists that cover the entire political spectrum. Some are conservative. Some are progressive. Some are local. Some are so conservative that they criticize aspects of President Trump's presidency as a rejection of conservative values.
This is where the term "bias" becomes confusing. Some readers seem to think that anything that doesn't conform to their political views is "biased."
We're nobody's echo chamber. If the Sentinel only published pro-Trump or anti-Trump columns or cartoons all the time, critics might have a case for bias. But we don't do that. We try to present a diverse array of opinions so readers can decide for themselves which arguments stick.
We seem to get as many complaints about being too conservative as being too liberal, which we take to mean that we're right where we should be. If you aren't upset with your local newspaper's opinion page at least half the time, either we aren't doing our job or you aren't paying attention.
Nevertheless, confusion about bias and the role of the editorial page speaks to the media literacy problem in this country. The Colorado House passed a bill to improve media literacy in public schools, which is a fine idea. It can't hurt to make sure young people are equipped to distinguish professional news-gathering operations from purveyors of fake news.
But as Corey Hutchins, a Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review's United State Project, recently observed, young people aren't solely the problem.
He pointed a study in Science Advances which found that "on average, users over 65 shared nearly seven times as many articles from fake news domains as the youngest age group."
It's our job to stir the local intellectual soup. There's no hidden agenda with regard to selecting columns, letters and cartoons. Our goal is simply to shove people out of their comfort zones.
Whatever your political views are, or whatever reason you pick up the Sentinel, thank you for reading and thanks for your feedback.