Many in the journalism community can agree that there is a fine line between having opinions and being downright offensive to a large portion of your community.
The latter, in some cases, results in journalists or news organizations losing their credibility and/or their jobs. This was the case this week at an Alabama newspaper, where an editor published an editorial urging the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to “ride again,” according to The Washington Post.
Here is the background — Goodloe Sutton, the now former publisher and editor-in-chief of the Democrat-Reporter, published an opinion piece which advocated for mass lynchings and the KKK to “wipe out” corrupt politicians in Washington, The Post reported. Sutton was replaced by a Democrat-Reporter office clerk after he stepped down from his position.
Before his resignation, Sutton said offended individuals could contact him or boycott the paper entirely.
The timeline of events in this case is eerily similar to what has recently happened at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Newsroom employees were inundated with calls from angry subscribers more than a year ago when the Post-Gazette’s editorial board published “Reason as racism: An immigration debate gets derailed” in response to President Donald Trump’s comments on “[expletive] countries” and immigrants, according to The New York Times.
The editorial essentially defends the president’s remarks and calls into question how racism should be defined these days. To make matters worse, this editorial was released on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday last year.
The incident at the Post-Gazette has led to a considerable amount of anger directed toward its publisher because of numerous incidents in which he has shown a conservative bias that may have impacted editorial decisions at the paper.
It is interesting to note that both Sutton and Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block inherited their papers from relatives. Neither got into journalism from personal interest or talent alone.
What also needs to be understood about both incidents is the complete separation between the newsroom and editorial board. The reporters whose bylines you see in the newspaper are not the ones contributing to these opinion pieces — at least in most situations.
This means that when people cancel their subscriptions, they are hurting hard-working journalists instead of the person(s) who offended them with an isolated opinion piece.
This industry cannot really afford to lose people because of this misunderstanding; the Pew Research Center reported that in 2017, daily newspaper circulation was down 11 percent from the previous year.
Although commentators do have the right to discuss whatever they want in their pieces, incidents like these show a blatant disregard for the news that brings in the majority of profit, and an even further gap between journalists and the corporate world which employs them.
So what is the solution? To be honest, if one existed, the print media industry may not be in quite the situation it currently is — chained to often rich, entitled, high-profile owners who want to push their opinion on others without understanding the plight of journalism or the working class as a whole. But how does journalism survive without these people?
I hope for this industry’s sake that a way is soon found.