Thursday, May 3, 2001
At dinner the other evening, a friend asked an incisive question: "Why do newspapers have editorial pages? Why don't you just stick to reporting the news?"
Why do we have
an editorial page?
It was one of those questions that make one sit up straight because the tradition of editorial and, later, commentary pages is so deeply ingrained that they are taken for granted. Few journalists ever think much about the reasons for them.
One is to be a watchdog scrutinizing people and institutions with power. The American Revolution was largely motivated by a distrust of power and caused the Founding Fathers to write into the Constitution a system of checks and balances. Editorial pages are among those checks and balances.
A second is to help provoke discussion in the robust democracy that is America. Editorials seek to influence, but more they point to issues about which citizens might want to think. Out of the ensuing give and take should come better solutions to the issues of the day, or at least so the theory holds.
There are other reasons and we will revisit this question from time to time. Readers are invited to plunge into the fray.