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updated: 9/23/2011 5:18 PM

Talk with the Editor: The awesomeness of newspapers

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  • Video: Scene from 'The Paper'


There's a website called "1,000 Awesome Things," and the other day, it had a sweet -- and admittedly nostalgic -- installment on "Reading an Actual Newspaper."

I'd quibble with the implication that newspapers are something from our past, but even with that flaw, the article is a relaxing read.

And that reminded me of a pet peeve about the way papers market themselves: A tremendous benefit of newspapers the industry has failed to emphasize is the relaxation that is inherent in them.

Whether you're reading about tragedy, playing a crossword puzzle, chuckling at a comic strip or (horrors!) getting angry with the editor, you're still relaxing with the paper. This habit of sitting down with the paper for a few minutes is really a respite from the rush of the rest of the day.

In this hectic, over-caffeinated, multi-tasking world, that's a great benefit, don't you think?

Anyway, what better way to end the week than to recommend the essay to you.

Have a good weekend.

Is this a good idea? (Posted Thursday, Sept. 22)

Help me with this idea.

We're thinking of inviting a subscriber to participate in the morning news budget meeting every day. (Or maybe once a week to get it started and with the intention of eventually doing it every day after we've worked out the bugs.)

Is it a good idea? How should it work? How should we pick the day's participant? Other than observing, what should his or her role be?

As importantly, how do we keep the meeting real, so editors behave like they normally would rather than putting on their Sunday best for the spectator?

The news budget meeting takes place at 9 a.m. most weekday mornings in a conference room at our main office in Arlington Heights. There are as many as a dozen editors in the room, sometimes as few as seven or eight. Another four usually are hooked up by phone from bureau offices.

We've talked about having the subscriber in as our guest. But because of the distance for many or the inconvenience of the time, we've also talked about doing it electronically. Skyping it perhaps, which would present it's own complications. Or teleconferences, which would be easy to set up but might lose something in the translation.

The meeting is fairly informal, sometimes boisterous, sometimes sleepy. If you've ever seen "The Paper," you have some sense of the feel of it. The atmosphere is not far removed from the kind of meetings Robert Duvall ran in the movie, except without the cigarette smoke.

Editors representing a variety of areas of responsibility toss out potential stories their reporters have on tap. We talk about what ones we need to hustle onto digital platforms. We talk about what ones are apt to make the front page of the next day's print editions. On some of the stories, we debate the angles we might pursue. We talk about photos, video. We joke. We talk mission. We try to get moving on the day ahead.

And each day, the meeting starts with Executive Editor Madeleine Doubek asking, "What are the suburbs talking about today?" One interesting way to help answer that question would be to have the suburbs in the meeting with us.

What do you think? Help me with this idea.

Why our editorials are unnamed (Posted Wednesday, Sept. 21)

Here's an observation posted anonymously last week on a column that suggested one approach to improve the civility of online commenting might be to require that commenters be identified by their real names:

"The Daily Herald routinely prints NAMELESS editorials and endorsements. Is Lampinen clueless, a hypocrite, or just another do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do liberal?"

I'm not sure what I said in the column that invited or deserved the name calling, but let me just say that:

I am at times, indeed, clueless, as my admission yesterday that I was unfamiliar with hand fishing clearly demonstrates; I no doubt am at times unintentionally hypocritical, as most of us are and my children eagerly pointed out while they were growing up; as far as my political leanings go, you're not going to get me to acknowledge either a right or left leaning; I work hard to keep whatever leaning I have out of our journalism and certainly, I don't think there was any hint of it in the column that provoked the comment.

The presumption of political bias in the media is a great topic to get into, and I will with relish in this column sometime soon, but for today, let me respond to the point about nameless editorials and endorsements.

I think a great argument can be made -- and some newspapers make it -- that editorials should carry bylines. We've always followed a different philosophy. We identify the members of our Editorial Board on the print Opinion Page every day, but we publish editorials without bylines on the grounds that they are the voice of the newspaper as an institution, not the voice of any individual writer.

We coach all of our editorial writers, as a matter of fact, on the idea that they are writing as a representative of that institution's views, not their own.

We never ask a writer to write an editorial he or she can't live with, but writers do try to represent a consensus and that means that from time to time, they take positions that mesh with the institution's philosophy but not precisely with their own, or endorse candidates in keeping with the institution's philosophy even if that might not be the candidate that writer will support at the ballot box.

We take editorials and endorsements as a sacred obligation to maintain the newspaper's institutional voice -- one that is fiscally conservative, socially moderate, pro education, primarily local and trying to look out for the good of the suburbs. In doing that, much like a court will, we strive for consistency in viewpoints between editorials -- and we measure that consistency not just in days but in decades.

I'm interested in your thoughts on all that. Hopefully, without the name calling.

In writing this column, as I've said, I'm hoping to create a better conversation with our audience. I'm hoping that over time, you get a better feel for how I think, as the editor of the paper. But that also, I get a better feel for how you think.

In that vein, I hope the listening goes back and forth. I want you to listen to me, of course. But I also want to listen to you.

What if a story appalls me? (Posted Tuesday, Sept. 20)

Here's an editor's dilemma that gives you a glimpse into my world.

At this morning's news budget meeting with the editors, one of the story ideas that was proposed was a piece on a suburbanite who will be shown "hand fishing" later this week on one of those cable channel reality shows.

Perhaps everyone in the country is familiar with hand fishing except me, but I'd never heard of it before.

To familiarize me, Jeff Knox, our senior director of photography, pulled up a YouTube video showing a fisherman standing in the water and forcing his hand through the mouth of a very ugly, very large catfish and out the gill, holding the big fish up for the camera with his forearm.

Pretty disgusting.

We had a generally jovial but spirited debate at the news budget meeting about whether this is cruel to the fish.

Personally, I am aghast by it, although it turns out hand fishing isn't usually quite that bad. In most cases, apparently, it's a sport where the fish bites on the extended hand of the fisherman (or fisherwoman) and then is caught in a more conventional wrestling match that's at least somewhat similar to being caught at the end of a baited line.

Whatever the case, here's where the dilemma comes in: How much do I allow my personal perspective on this to affect our decision on whether we do a story? And if we do, what kind of approach do we take to the story?

At the beginning, I said this is a glimpse at my world. It really is that.

These kind of subtle judgment issues come up all the time, and as editors, we're always balancing how much of ourselves we allow into the decision making.

I'd appreciate your thoughts and advice, not so much on the fish issue as on the balancing of my own perspective issue.

(By the way, I appreciate all the conversation last week related to online commenting. I was out of the office for a few days but we'll get back into that topic later this week.)

Meanwhile, let me hear what you think about today's dilemma. Thanks.