Thoughts on WDH Editorial Board Service

As of last week, my term as a reader member of the Wausau Daily Herald Editorial Board came to an end.

I would first like to thank them for inviting me to the party. If you have followed my online writings for the past few years, you know that my views are hit and miss at best with the views of the Board. Their willingness to include me for the last few months I thought was a big deal because of differences I have had with that body.

There are a few questions that are asked by many people when it comes to editorials that the WDH does answer, but I don’t think those answers are fully understood. The primary question that people ask, especially when they downright disagree, is “who wrote that?” The answer normally given is that no one person writes the editorials, they are essentially written by the “Board” once a consensus has been reached. That seems like a cheap cop out answer, but having been on the Board, it is actually true. Yes, one person does most of the actual writing, but what they write is not their opinion, it is what the Board decided. And many issues that were presented to the Board by individual members did not go to print the way they were originally drafted after getting Board input. The person who actually puts the words to print does change, it is not always one single person… but with rare exception, if the entire Board doesn’t agree with what the editorial says, it doesn’t go to print.

My term on the Board was educational and interesting. I was a part of the Board through the entire local elections where we interviewed countless candidates so that we could choose who our endorsements would be for. I was ready for some long and heated discussions about who we should endorse, but surprisingly the vast majority were very brief discussions. After the interviews we would do a straw pole to see which way the Board was leaning, and easily 90% of the time, we were all leaning toward the same candidate (though often for very different reasons).

During my term, we were visited by both the Governor and at least 1 gubernatorial candidate. We were visited by groups who are both in favor of and fighting the Rothschild Biomass plant. We spent time with various groups wanting to tell us what was going on with their group and why it was important for the WDH to editorialize about it.

In addition, it was educational because I got to know better the group of people who make up the Editorial Board. The actual discussions that happen on various topics are “off the record.” Who says what during the meetings is to stay within the meeting. It allows opinions to flow more freely without fear of retribution and it allows the Board to speak with one unified voice. It also allows for us to get to know each other better outside of our job titles. What hobbies we have in common, what interests we share, what our backgrounds are that form our opinions, what issues we will never agree on.. etc.

The terms of the reader members of the Board are varied. Some reader members spend extended periods of time on the Board, and others will only spend a few months. During my time on the Board, there was a basic issue that I am going to assume led to my term being shorter rather than longer. That issue is that I was essentially the first ever “Web 2.0” member of the Editorial Board. The problem is that activity which prompted the invitation to participate in the Board was not allowed to continue while actually on the Board. (Though I did tend to bend that rule quite a bit.)

What do I mean? Well… my online reputation exceeds my in person one. I am active in commenting on articles, I write a very popular blog, and also do feature writing for Citizen Wausau. I have gained a reputation for being informed on local issues and for being a relative moderate, who can try to break down highly emotional issues into its core pieces for further discussion. Web 2.0 is the concept in which the internet and websites are not just used as resources, but there is a level of interaction. In “old school” internet use, you would sit and read the online version of the Daily Herald. In Web 2.0, you would read it, and then interact with the WDH and other readers by comments and other actions. Often, these comments bring up issues that become part of follow up stories.

It is this willingness to engage and comment and write that warranted the invitation to spend some time on the Board. However, that “unified voice” thing that has been a concept of the Board since.. well… probably forever is not consistent with Web 2.0 participation.

Yes, I write on this site as “Dr. Rent” and my name in the print version of the paper was “John Fischer”… however I have never tried, not for one second, to hide who I am with the use of an online screen name. So, when a comment is made or a blog post is done on a local issue by Dr. Rent, it puts the Editorial Board in an interesting position, because we speak as a unified voice, but yet one member is out there speaking alone. Does that member speak for themselves, or the Editorial Board? Or more complicated yet, what if this Board member writes an article on a particular issue; if the Editorial Board must later address this issue, will it complicate matters that one of their members has already made a stand?

These are interesting issues. I did try to refrain from my online comments when it was on issues that the Editorial Board might address…. But sometimes the temptation was too great. I do think that if the Board is going to invite other Web 2.0 non-anonymous posters to participate, they need to come up with a better way to handle that. The fact is, Web 2.0 doesn’t mesh well with Editorial Board 1.0, and if they want to include the online community, they are going to need to find a way to make it work a little better.

The other thing that gets a little complicated, especially with reader members, is that even though the actual make up of the Board changes from time to time, the views of the Board don’t change just because the members did. An example is that the Board has been pro-changes to the 400 Block for sometime. So, a new member has to understand that if they are 100% against the 400 Block changes, the Board it not going to change its stand just because now there is not a consensus. Don’t get me wrong, the Board has revisited issues. There were two issues where there was discussion as to whether or not the Board should change its position, and a third issue where it actually did. So, an opinion or decision made by the Board is not set in stone.

I did enjoy my time on the Editorial Board, and would like to thank Mike, Mark, Pete, Rob and Ann for the great discussions and taking the time to listen to the ramblings of a burnt-out landlord. As much as I am disappointed that my term has come to an end, I do look forward to being able to ramp back up my online persona, spending a little more time commenting, blogging, and going back to feature writing for CW.

I hope to be invited back at some point in time, and I hope that by then, we can figure out how to handle Editorial Board 2.0.

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About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
This entry was posted in WDH Editorial Board, WDH Forums and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Thoughts on WDH Editorial Board Service

  1. matthew says:

    John –

    I have a question. You said that the editorials really do reflect the consensus of the board. Does the board meet everyday? It seems that some of the editorials follow a specific event very quickly. So, how often did you meet? Since there is a different editorial seven times a week, did you meet once a week and decide on the editorials for the upcoming week? Or are there emergency board meetings when a quick editorial is needed? It seems to me that the time required to provide input and arrive at a consensus for every editorial would take up a great deal of time.

  2. The editorial board would meet once a week, with an outline of editorial topics for the week. We would discuss each topic in depth, and other topics that individual members might be aware of.

    We often had other special meetings, such as those with the governor. Often, if there was a late-breaking item (like the time the editorial was moved to the front page over the Wausau School Board issue), that was done via email.

  3. Also, we would get the proposals in advance of the meeting so we could come fairly well prepared. Most weekly meetings lasted less than 2 hours. We would not write the editorial, we would just give our thoughts on what the editorial position should be and why. Then whomever was going to write it would write it… and most of the time, the board was emailed a draft so that we could “speak now or forever hold your peace” before it went to print.

    Also, often some fast breaking items we knew were coming and you can prepare for in advance.

    If there is an issue that we just butt heads on… we don’t cover that issue.

    There was some discussion about having a “dissenting opinion” editorial, if there was an issue important enough to editorialize but one that we couldn’t all agree on.

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