Take time to plan the editorial page calendar, topics
The Inlander/October 2008
News content is strongest when editors and reporters routinely identify those stories and events that will warrant their attention. The value of an editorial calendar is twofold.
Some events occur every year and this gives opportunity to look for fresh angles for coverage. City festivals, local government budget hearings and United Way campaigns fall into this category. Plus, by having this coverage in hand, newsrooms are better prepared to handle the unexpected issues and events certain to surface.
Absent from planning in many newsrooms, however, is the role of the editorial page. As a result, many newspapers fall short on writing editorials on local issues. Among the most common reasons cited by editors: “I don’t have the time,” or “I can’t think of anything to write about.”
Generating ideas is the first step in writing editorials. Researching the subject is step two, and crafting the words is almost the easiest part of the process. Though many editors struggle with identifying ideas, it shouldn’t be that difficult.
Think of the many items that cross your desk that provide fodder for commentary. Here’s one checklist of ideas:
Set the agenda: Craft resolutions for your community. Identify the challenges and suggest actions. This can be done for local government bodies. It might be appropriate as well for certain civic organizations, such as the United Way, that are integral to local quality of life. Or identify communitywide issues that invite cooperation by the public and private sectors. Some of these editorials can run in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions; others can be published in conjunction with goal-setting by various groups.
Follow the agenda: Monitor the agendas of governing bodies. A periodic check-up is fodder for news stories. Editorials might applaud and acknowledge the accomplishments, or ask why the lack of progress on some initiatives.
Scrutinize budgets: Governing bodies put immense time into developing budgets, and newspapers routinely report the numbers. An editorial can further analyze budgets. Where is spending increasing the most, and is it appropriate? Are some interests getting shortchanged? What is the tax impact and are the arguments for or against more spending persuasive?
Citizen recognition: Organizations often recognize citizens. A news story will identify the standard accomplishments, and an editorial might spotlight a particular achievement that will have long-lasting impact on a community. Use the editorial page at any time of year to highlight extraordinary and noteworthy achievements.
Fresh take on regular events: Most editors feel obligated to acknowledge recurring events such as high school graduation. Including this in editorial calendars is a reminder to look for fresh angles. For example, for high school commencement, chronicle the academic and athletic achievements of a particular class. College graduation is an opportunity to praise the students but also remind them of the challenges of competing in a global economy. And what better way to observe the nation’s birthday by encouraging individuals to step forward for public service.
Localize state, national reports: Myriad state and national reports provide fodder to localize the statistics and talk to community leaders about the issues. What does the report from Kids Count Data Book produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation mean for community vitality? The Tax Foundation releases a report on Tax Freedom Day, a state-by-state accounting on the day when Americans have earned enough money to pay off their total tax bill for all levels of government. Seize the opportunity to remind citizens to monitor government spending.
Elections: Politics at all levels – from local to state to national – offer ample opportunities for commentary. What’s at stake for your region in terms of issues at the state legislature or U.S. Congress? Check in periodically with lawmakers; have they delivered on their promises? Lobbying has reached the extremes where local government is lobbying state and federal government; what is the return on the investment? Every election is an opportunity to give a “thumbs up” to those individuals who you believe will best advance the interests of a community.
Year in review: Select the top local stories of the year and state their importance.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and many newsrooms already pursue news stories on these topics. Editorials can provide additional interpretation and be the springboard for a lively exchange of ideas by readers.