To persuade is the highest goal of newspaper editorials

  • Jim Slusher

    Jim Slusher

 
 
Updated 1/14/2021 9:06 AM

By Jim Slusher

Persuasion has been called a "gentle art." More often, people approach it with a fiery hammer.

 

Gentility may not be exactly what we need in these troubled and divisive times, but, oh, for some oratorical art. Lord knows, we have seen all too clearly the bruised and scorched earth that fiery hammers leave in their wake.

These thoughts come to mind as I reflect on actions both in Washington and Springfield over the past week and an email from a reader wondering about the tone of Daily Herald editorials, appearing to want to hear more vituperation in the newspaper's voice. My response is that we want our editorials, in general, not just to express our feelings and those of many readers about issues of the day but to explain our reasoning and enjoin those readers who may not agree with us to at least consider our point of view.

History is replete with passionate phrases from the likes of Churchill and Kennedy and Lincoln and King and countless other great speakers, and appropriately so. But as I reflect on many of these great orations, I find that they overwhelmingly seem fashioned to embolden listeners and readers who already share the speaker's point of view or to demonstrate the intensity and resolve the speaker brings to the cause. These are legitimate aims, of course, and have their place in virtually any debate. But serious debate must also have a place for persuasion, and when it comes to most controversial issues we take on, that is the place we consider most important.

That is not to say we are satisfied to be calm or banal in the face of big issues. We hope, for example, that our reaction to the storming of the Capitol last week -- "We see where cynicism leads ..." --, while generally avoiding expressions of hostile outrage, nonetheless demonstrated our disgust for the horrors that occurred and the president's remarks that preceded and followed them, our disdain for the congressmen who sought to overturn the results of the November election and our faith that America's better instincts will prevail. And, while our series of editorials this week might well have been justified if it had spit outrage and offense at controversial House Speaker Michael Madigan and the enablers who have allowed him to dominate Illinois government, instead we sought to appeal to your and our leaders' sense of reason in developing the kinds of reforms that will make Illinois government more credible and honorable.

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Every editorial has its own purpose. There is merit in praising some local government program that serves as a model for other agencies to follow. The venting of righteous indignation over a misuse of power or an abominable act can help readers appreciate and channel their own anger. Great and positive change can come from inspiring support for a virtuous cause. We expect our editorials will serve all these purposes and more as circumstances dictate.

But above all, we hope they will engage all our readers, those who agree and those who disagree, to pursue positive, constructive objectives. We aren't always gentle. We strive always to be artful. We hope rarely to wield a flaming cudgel -- a tool that by nature merely serves purposes of destruction.

jslusher@dailyherald.com

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