What editorial writers really hope for
On Sunday, we published an edited transcript of a conversation we had last week with Mark Galli, the Christianity Today editor who attracted the most attention of his career two weeks before he retired from the magazine with an editorial he wrote urging the removal from office of President Donald Trump. During that interview, Galli said something that applied to journalism and editorial writing generally at least as much as to impeachment specifically.
"Anybody who's responsible for writing editorials knows one hopes against hope that it will change some minds, but you're realistic and know what you're probably mostly doing is encouraging to people that already agree with you," he said.
He was right to a point and wrong to a point, but then he went on to add some important nuance.
"The biggest hope I have is that at least we will open up a conversation in the evangelical movement, at least the conversation to say, shouldn't we -- even if we agree that we're going to vote for Trump -- shouldn't we have the moral integrity to challenge him when he acts publicly in such immoral ways? ... It's something I would hope they would say, 'Yeah, it is kind of a big deal.' I don't know, I don't have a lot of hope that will happen, but you know, that's why you write editorials, because you hope that something will happen."
Obviously, when we write and publish editorials, we hope that "something will happen" as a result, but most often, we know that, except in rare cases, a single editorial is not likely to spur immediate direct action and that editorials generally are not likely to change the minds of readers who disagree. Our hope is that they further responsible conversations about the subjects we address.
Galli said about 3,000 subscribers canceled Christianity Today after the Trump editorial. Such cancellations following a controversial story or stance always trouble me, for they suggest that Galli may be right when he says he doesn't have a lot of hope that readers will enter the kind of conversation he wanted to encourage. And I'm only moderately encouraged by his estimate that the losses were more than offset by about three times the number of new subscriptions from readers who decided to take the magazine as a result of the editorial. If what motivated those new subscribers was Christianity Today's courageous willingness to lead important conversations about controversial topics, wonderful. If what motivated them was simply their agreement with the magazine's stance, maybe not so much. What will they do if its editors take a position vastly different from theirs on some other controversial topic? Engage in the conversation and respond with friends, family and the magazine itself? Or simply disengage altogether and keep looking for sources that agree with them all of the time?
That latter group is not the audience for our editorials. We don't expect that the opinions the Daily Herald promotes on its Opinion page under "Our View" will change your mind or change the world in one fell swoop. But we do hope they'll make you think and make you talk. For we aim to advance democracy, and democracy thrives not on universal acceptance of some authoritarian single point of view, but on the very human exchange of many different challenging ideas.