Editorial Writers: 'Who Are Those Guys?' bTC

ERNEST F. IMHOFF

September 20, 1992|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

When unknown horsemen were chasing Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid in the popular Western movie, our two heroes kept asking each other "Who are those guys?"

Editorial writers, also unnamed and dogged pursuers, are a mystery to readers asking, "Who are those guys? Who writes those things? Do they have names?"

Maybe it's time for a little "Light for All" to reveal some of our editorial writers, who have been hidden since before The Sun slogan was born in 1840. The opportunity presents itself as The Sun and The Evening Sun for the first time have six editorial writers assigned exclusively to Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties and Baltimore city.

Beginning Sept. 28, readers in Arundel, Howard and Carroll will read an editorial a day Monday through Friday on their own county. Their pieces will appear as one of the regular editorials on the editorial page. The writers will also do Sunday columns as part of new full-sized sections of expanded community news in the overall new company project called Sunburst.

Readers in the three other areas will also see more local editorials and news, though they won't see local editorials each day yet and aren't expected to see their own separate focused news sections until sometime in 1993. The newly assigned editorialists have drifted into place in recent months.

One unfortunate aspect is that readers won't see the writers' daily handiwork if they live outside the writer's bailiwick, but they are promised many columns with regional impact and on area-wide issues.

Guiding the new six-person team of editorial writers is 33-year-old Andrew R. Ratner, a local news editor for seven years at The Arundel Sun and then The Evening Sun. He reports to Joseph R. L. Sterne, editorial page editor, who in turn reports to the publisher, Michael J. Davies.

Mr. Ratner and his six associates range in service here from 4 1/2 years to 23 years. Most are in their 30s or 40s. Three of the seven grew up in Maryland. Most have families. One is a woman, and one is black.

"We meet once a week with the other writers, then the seven of us meet," said Mr. Ratner. "We pick topics people are talking about. We try to be fresh. The publisher rarely dictates his opinions. We toss ideas around and that way, make writers' assignments. The six are former reporters and, unlike some others who've tried out, are comfortable with editorial writing."

"We want to be consistent with what the paper's said before . . . but flexible, too. The paper has some basic stances we want to follow, like regionalism. I worked in a city [Easton, Pa.] where there was a bad economy. . . . If a region acts together I think it can get stronger."

Except for Mr. Ratner and Antero Pietila, the city editorial writer, the writers will not work downtown, where other editorial writers have always worked and politicians and other news-makers have come to schmooze.

In touch with Mr. Ratner by phone, they will be in new suburban offices where the associate publishers, editors, writers, photographers, artists and business people also work. It's easier that way to meet sources and people angry or pleased with their opinions.

Dan Berger, a kind of wise head in the editorial wing, advised the younger writers about the "unfitness test: An editorial has to be unfit for the news pages. If it could go in the news pages, it ought to." He added that when coming to an issue fresh, the writers should research thoroughly enough to be able to write either side. They can then stake out their basic position better, but should still be able to consider new developments later.

Elise Armacost, assigned to Anne Arundel County, says of her switch from reporting to editorial writing: "For me, it takes more brain-work. In most things, there is not a clear right and wrong. Choosing sides is always more difficult [than reporting]. The writing itself is not difficult."

Here are the seven outriders, not likely to be called "The Magnificent Seven" by some readers, though their editorials will range from praise to criticism:

Anne Arundel County -- Ms. Armacost, 31, of Glyndon. Born in Frederick and grew up in Carroll County. Graduate of Western Maryland College. Reporter for The Harford Sun and The Arundel Sun for four and a half years. Along with reporting for two other companies earlier, she has covered all five suburban counties except Howard. Interests/expertise: local politics.

Baltimore City -- Mr. Pietila, 49, of Union Square, Baltimore. Born in Helsinki, Finland in 1943; grew up in Finland and has been living in America since 1967. Graduate of the University of Tampere, in Finland, and M.A. recipient at Southern Illinois University. A Sun reporter including overseas duty since 1969, editorial writer since 1989. Interests: "Jack of all trades. From cops to City Hall, I've worked it all. South Africa (1980-83) and Moscow (1983 to 1988)."

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