A Clip-Save Guide To Sun's Editors

COMMENT

January 09, 1994|By ELISE ARMACOST

The voice on the other end of the phone belonged to Annapolis Alderman John Hammond, and the sound of it told me he wasn't calling to say what a good editorial I had written that day.

He was worked up over a news story that had been published in The Sun about his Ward 1 aldermanic race, objecting that it portrayed him as too anti-business and saying it had to be fixed.

Since I hadn't written the story, I wondered why he was calling me and asked as much. "Because you're going to have to take care of this," he said.

At which point it dawned on me that the good alderman had me mixed up with someone else: the news editor of the Anne Arundel bureau, Candy Thomson.

Over the past few months it has become clear that Mr. Hammond isn't the only one confused about who's responsible for what here at The Sun. People aren't certain whom to call to complain about a mistake in a story, to provide a tip or register their displeasure with an editorial opinion.

They're not sure where to send letters to the editor. Indeed, they're not sure who "the editor" is.

I don't blame them.

It's easier to navigate the Chesapeake Bay during a cyclone than it is to wade through the job titles at most newspapers.

Why, oh why, are we so in love with variations of the word "editor"? We have a managing editor, editorial page editors, assistant editors, editorial writers, editorial assistants, copy editors. They do vastly different jobs, yet they all sound as interchangeable as typewriter ribbons.

You don't need, and probably don't care, to know what each of these editor-types does. But I figure that if Mr. Hammond, who's been dealing with the press for 16 years, needs a simple guide to those of us you're most likely to want to reach sooner or later, then it's a safe bet other readers do, too.

Let's start with Mr. Hammond's misconception, which is a common one. He thought that as an editorial, or opinion, writer, I was also the editor of the Anne Arundel bureau, the person responsible for the news stories that appear in the main sections of the paper.

But that is Ms. Thomson. She's the one you call if your community notice doesn't make the paper until the event is over, if you notice that a reporter keeps spelling "Riviera Beach" incorrectly, or if you've got a hot tip. (If she's not there, two assistant editors, Joel McCord and Chris Kaltenbach, will gladly lend you their ears.)

Do not call Ms. Thomson or the assistant editors if you read an Anne Arundel editorial that's so insightful and on-the-money that you are moved to tell someone. They are in the news department, which is entirely separate from the editorial department.

News gives you the facts; editorial gives you opinion.

I am an opinion writer who writes two kinds of opinion: editorials and a column. What you are reading now is the column. It's my opinion -- mine, and nobody else's.

Most (but not all) of the Anne Arundel editorials that appear on the editorial page are also written by me. But unlike the column, they must reflect positions of The Sun as an institution and pass muster with a 15-member editorial board, or at least four editors who review all editorials before publication every day.

This is why editorials never carry a byline. I can write an editorial endorsing Chadwick the Crab as the next county executive, but, rest assured, it would never see the light of day.

Now, about letters to the editor. When you send one of these, you're not really directing it to any one particular editor. "Letters to the Editor" is a sort of figure of speech for correspondence to the newspaper, to be printed in a public forum -- namely, the opinion page.

As opinion, letters fall under the purview of the editorial department. Address them to my attention or fax them to the editorial department; the numbers and addresses are always in a little box on this page.

One final note regarding the distinction between news and opinion: There really is a distinction.

I suspect many Sun readers are skeptical of that. I suspect many are convinced that the newspaper's news is tainted by the meddling of its opinion makers, or, conversely, that news editors like Ms. Thomson have a say in the paper's positions on issues.

Readers have reason to be suspicious. Papers do vary in their ethics. Especially at smaller papers, news editors -- the ones who are supposed to deal with facts -- also help craft the paper's opinions, both by writing editorials themselves and in the way they "play" news stories.

But at The Sun, as at many large papers, the wall between news and opinion is respected, almost revered.

Neither local news editors nor the editor of the entire paper, John Carroll, has a hand in shaping the newspaper's positions.

And those of us who write opinion don't tell the news editors which stories they should banner across the front page and which they should bury at the bottom of page E-9.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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