Unsigned editorials and anonymous comments
by StarEditorBobDavis
 Behind the Star
Jul 05, 2011 | 6300 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

As the Star moves to a new commenting system powered by Facebook, several online commenters in the old anonymous system have asked if unsigned editorial opinions of The Anniston Star aren’t covered.

A poster who goes by the handle “FrustratedJoe” asked, “Will that also include the ‘Editorial Staff[?]’” FrustratedJoe goes on to insinuate The Star’s reporters are editorializing in the newspaper’s opinion pages, and closes by wishing for “[n]o more Ghost Writers at the Star.”

Let’s take these questions one at a time.

None of The Stars reporters, meaning the journalists who cover the news, sports and features of our community, write the unsigned editorials that appear under the masthead on the left-hand side of the editorial page.

The editorials represent the institutional opinions of The Anniston Star. Topics range from purely local issues to ones making an impact on our state, nation and world. They celebrate victories. Mourn losses. Offer advice when warranted. Call out serious wrongdoing. Suggest compromises between warring factions. Hold government and large institutions accountable. Encourage us to bigger and better things.

Editorials are written by individuals expressing the collective views of our editorial board. The writers of each editorial are not merely expressing a personal view, but one in line with the paper’s institutional view.

The tradition of unsigned editorials stretches back to the dawn of newspapers. Perhaps history’s most famous editorial, The New York Sun’s “Yes, Virginia” ode to Santa Claus, was published unsigned.  Most newspapers carry on the tradition today.

I like the way my pal and the editorial page editor of the Detroit Free Press Ron Dzwonkowski puts it, “The unsigned editorial is the voice of a concerned community institution, a local business that, in addition to trying to make money, has a mission enshrined in the Constitution to serve as an independent watchdog on government and public policy. The editorial voice – a product of consensus that is not always what the writer would say were he or she speaking as an individual – should carry more weight than an individual's column or blog.”

That is not to say that the feeling about unsigned editorial is universal among newspapers or media watchers.

There has been a small but growing movement to attach names to institutional opinions. For a local example look no further than the Huntsville Times, which includes the names of its editorials’ writers. 

A final word on the changing from anonymous commenting and Facebook: What the change to a Facebook-powered commenting system allows The Star is an opportunity to better police those posters who have misused the site by frequently dealing in name-calling and foul language. Attaching real names and Facebook user profile photos helps, but of equal value from the new system is a more able method of banning users who violate the rules of civil dialogue.


- Bob Davis, editor of The Anniston Star

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