The making of an opinion

The people and the principles that help shape The Sun's editorial pages

December 28, 2003|By Dianne Donovan

"All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced upon them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else."

Remarkably, those aren't the words of a politician. They're the words of a journalist - Baltimore's patron saint of journalism or its most annoying historical sorehead, depending on your viewpoint: H. L. Mencken, former editorial page editor of The Evening Sun and editor of The Sunday Sun and The Evening Sun.

Mr. Mencken wrote those words back in 1919. But with regard to the editorial pages these days, it would be more appropriate to substitute persuasive for querulous and passionate for bellicose. And, of course, we do defend - and even applaud - people, movements, ideas and institutions, but that's not our primary role.

And I say "with regard to the editorial pages" specifically, because the most important thing for you to know about the editorial pages right off the bat is that they are completely separate from the paper's news pages. This is true not just at The Sun, but at every worthwhile paper in the country. It's that division that maintains the independence and integrity of the editorial side, and the objectivity and integrity of the news side.

The editorial page is the real soul of the newspaper. It is the voice of The Sun, not of any one individual, and it reflects the paper's abiding values and core concerns. It speaks for the publisher, but in a broader sense, it speaks for The Sun and its history - thus, our editorials have no bylines.

This "voice" that I speak of is articulated by The Sun's editorial board, which consists of myself and two associate editors, the letters editor, the op-ed page editor, the production editor and five editorial writers. We meet each morning, Monday through Thursday, for an hour or so, and each member is expected to have read three or four newspapers before that meeting. Then we talk about news events, policies or areas of interest that we should be weighing in on editorially. We are fortunate to have a great range, among board members, of knowledge, expertise and experience, which makes for lively discussion and cogent, informed opinion. Voices may be raised, but there's not generally a lot of crockery broken.

In addition, the board convenes frequently to hear from the public officials and others whom we write about (secretary Peggy Moran maintains the board's busy calendar).

Our goal is to reach consensus, based on what we know, what we think and what The Sun has said in the past. An institutional voice must be consistent, so we are ever mindful of the historical record; that doesn't mean we can't change direction, but we do so carefully and with great thought.

We aren't always trying to change someone's mind. Sometimes we are trying to help our readers sort out a complicated issue - such as the Medicare expansion bill. On Saturdays, we mostly choose to entertain with Editorial Notebook, essays that are informative but a tad whimsical.

The board's goal is not to espouse one political viewpoint, but rather to educate, inform and persuade our readers and those who make the decisions that affect our readers' lives. Our mission is to promote the betterment of the city, the region, the state of Maryland, the nation and the world.

- Dianne Donovan

Editorial writers and editors

Robert Benjamin is a former Asia correspondent and Maryland editor for The Sun. Bob writes editorials about the Far East, business and financial issues, the economy, regional affairs and Howard County.

Ann LoLordo, a former Mideast correspondent, also covered the Baltimore City beat of cops and courts. She writes about the Mideast, Latin America, religion, the courts and social issues.

Will Englund, an associate editorial page editor, is a Pulitzer Prize winner who most recently was The Sun's Moscow correspondent. He writes about Eastern Europe, Iraq, national defense and immigration issues.

Karen Hosler, a former White House and Capitol Hill correspondent, also covered the state legislature for many years. Karen writes about the environment, science and health, Congress, national politics and Anne Arundel County.

Jean Thompson, an associate editorial page editor, was a features editor, an assistant managing editor and a reporter on the education beat. Jean supervises the op-ed page and the letters columns, and writes about education.

Nicky Penttila came to The Sun from The San Francisco Examiner, where she was editorial page editor. She writes about juvenile justice, family issues and the city.

Peter Jensen, our newest board member, has covered the General Assembly in Annapolis and the Eastern Shore. He most recently wrote for The Sun's Home & Family section, and frequently contributed to Taste. He writes editorials on statewide issues, politics and transportation.

Todd Windsor is the production editor. He copy edits the editorial pages and supervises the design and letters staff.

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