Columnist has a strange view of how editorial boards work


In his op-ed column in today’s Las Vegas newspaper, Steve Sebelius uses the term majority a dozen times to refer to a “majority” of the paper’s editorial board and the decision to publish an editorial this past Sunday opposing the margin tax for education, Question 3 on the November ballot. He, of course, endorses the tax and I happen to agree with the editorial stance.

“Sunday’s editorial made the case against The Education Initiative, saying it would be economically destructive across a wide variety of businesses, and that, in fact, ‘it does guarantee a much worse economy.’ In these contentions, I believe the majority is simply wrong,” Sebelius writes.

The column leaves the distinct impression that a newspaper’s editorials are determined democratically by a “majority” of the editorial board members. At all the papers I’ve worked at since the early 1970s, that has not been the case.

People would ask me, when I was editor of the Review-Journal, how editorial decisions were made and I would explain that the editorial board would discuss the various aspects of an issue, the board would vote, and the publisher always won — a majority of one.

There is a tagline at the bottom of the editorial column that reads: “The views expressed above are those of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. All other opinions expressed on the Opinion and Commentary pages are those of the individual artist or author indicated.”

Unless things have changed far more than I could imagine at the R-J, the term “majority” is a misnomer.

In fact, in my current incarnation as a free-lance columnist and editorialist for a string of rural newspapers owned by the R-J’s former publisher Sherman Frederick, this distinction has in fact arisen.

Back in December I penned a column pointing out a better way to reduce the caseload of the Nevada Supreme Court than creating an appeals court, which is Question 1 on the ballot.

But the publisher wanted to endorse Question 1. I told him an editorialist is like a gunslinger or a hooker. Who do you want shot or screwed? The price is the same. (Borrowed from a description a lawyer once used for his profession, but it works in this case as well.)

By the time I finished the editorial I may have convinced myself to vote for the appeals court, since the better solution is not on the ballot and the current situation is untenable.

That’s how it really works at the vast majority of newspapers. It’s hardly a democracy.

(By the way, at this year’s Nevada Press Association contest my columns and editorials won first places in the community newspaper division. I also had first places in both categories while at the R-J. Both of those were deservedly captured this year by Glenn Cook.)

11 comments on “Columnist has a strange view of how editorial boards work

  1. bc says:

    Kind of the same at any job. We in my group can think one way and if the manager thinks another way and we cannot convince him to change his or her mind, we do it the boss’s way. That goes all the way up to the CEO or owner. If you’re disagreement is strong enough or that disagreement is continual, you move on.

    Congrats on the award, I like your writing. May or may not agree but it always gets me to pondering which is what it is all about.

  2. That’s part of why I do the blog. It keeps me thinking and plinking on the keyboard. Don’t want to atrophy.

  3. Steve says:

    There is a balance in convincing the boss to accept your opinion on some things. The trick is to be persistent and patient. Eventually things will move in a better direction.
    When they do work better, expect the boss to let you know his idea was a good one!
    Later on, if he or she has any integrity, you will move into a better place as the boss moves on up.

    Congrats on the recognition, you deserve it. (This column reminded me of the way the boss is and it couldn’t have come at a better time, Thanks!)

  4. Glad to be of assistance.

  5. bc says:

    A good manager will sometimes believe that you are not correct, but if over time has learned to trust your judgment will let you take your way anyway. The best will work with you as you work through the issues.

  6. Mike says:

    I have not commented nor followed this Margin tax issue here at your pages but i would point out that this will kill many doctors office that deliver IV drugs in office.
    As a rheumatologist i would be well under the $1 million mark but I do give these drugs. The margin (profit margin on the drugs) is about 2% so for ‘selling a million dollars worth of drugs (and financing them while I wait for payment) I make $20,000. Unfortunately that pushes me into the Margin Tax bracket. In fact more than half of my receipts are from selling these drugs.
    Essentially there is no raising prices for doctors anymore as everything except elective plastic surgery is contract priced.
    I could give up the IV part of the practice but I’d have to let some one go.
    I could even give up practice, I’m ‘old enough’ but I still enjoy the work.
    This is the dumbest tax I have ever heard of. One has to pay even if one does not show a profit.

  7. Athos says:

    I don’t know how Steve S can cash his paycheck with anything less than shame.

  8. It is like poking you boss in the eye.

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