Ithaca Blog

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ithaca Journal's No Opinion Page

The Ithaca Journal has to be the only paper in the country with a No Opinion policy on its Opinion page.

Granted, it's not a strict policy. The Journal is happy to offer opinions on less consequential matters. But on important issues, they offer paralysis.

The current example is the school bond vote. It's a big issue. Should the school district spend $98.4 million to upgrade facilities? The vote is next week.

The Journal's stance? It's too important an issue for them to have an opinion. They really said that.

They said the same thing in the very important election for district attorney last year. You may remember, the differences between the two candidates, liberal Democrat Gwen Wilkenson and conservative Republican George Dentes, could hardly have been more pronounced. But rather than offer any guidance, the Journal took a pass. They said their responsibility is to present facts, and let readers make up their own minds.

Well, no. Presenting facts is half a newspaper's job. Presenting opinion is the other. Then the readers evaluate the facts, and the opinion, and they make an informed vote. Readers count on their newpaper not only to report, but to evaluate, and to endorse, and to offer all those things for scrutiny.

Like the d.a.'s race, the school bond issue is immensely important to this town, and is hotly contested. In such situations, you can count on the Journal to duck.

Is it because they don't want to offend anybody? Hardly. They offend people a fair amount.

It's that they don't want to back a loser. If they can't tell who's going to win, they say nothing. And you are out of luck looking for responsible opinion leadership in your town.

Maybe there is hope for change, if readers wrote demanding leadership from them. Then they might realize the damage they do to their own credibility by dodging the issues we count on them to analyze.

Or maybe they just don't care. They are the only daily newspaper in town.

But there are other media these days. Such as this weblog. Ours is a modest enterprise, to be sure. But there seems to be room to grow into the shoes the Journal refuses to fill.

For the record: we support the bond proposal.

Stephen Burke
for Ithaca Blog

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