The job of editorial page editor — the way I choose to do it, anyway — involves a curious mix of leadership and collaboration.
As I frequently tell readers, our editorial board makes decisions by consensus, meaning that even if not everyone in the room buys into the position completely, it has been shaped to the point that each member can live with having the editorial appear beneath his or her name (which, while editorials are by definition not signed — only columns have bylines — is always up there on the masthead with the rest of our names for all the world to see. For an illustration, zoom in on the upper left-hand corner of this page.)
My colleagues occasionally say I’m not being entirely candid when I say that because we don’t always reach consensus, and sometimes we take a certain position only because I insist , despite the lingering objections of one or more members. True, there are times when I consider it necessary to take a position, and a consensus proves impossible — on some political endorsements, for instance. Unlike other issues, an endorsement picks one candidate or another, yes or no — leaving no room for the compromises that make consensus possible. And I firmly believe that failing to endorse — when one of these people will be elected — is a copout.
My response to this gentle remonstration is that just as often (if not more so), I give in and go along with the consensus. An example is today’s lead editorial. Personally, I’d like to see summer vacation start at Memorial Day and end after Labor Day. I sympathize with those who want their kids to enjoy the same sort of three-month idylls that I remember
from my own youth. And while I’m a big advocate of standards in the schools, I personally fail to understand what is magical about 180 days of instruction. I seem to recall many thousands of hours that I spent in school as being superfluous. I believe what I learned between kindergarten and 12th grade could have been taught in half the time.
But my colleagues pretty much unanimously insist that I’m completely WRONG on this, and since I have to confess that to some extent my position is based in sentimentality rather than evidence and logic (and I tend to treat positions based in "feelings" rather than thought with contempt), I’ve gone along with them.
But I only go along so far, and the copy has to get by me to get on the page. An example — a paragraph in today’s editorial originally read like this:
On a practical level, the bill approved Wednesday by the House Education Committee isn’t quite as bad as some previous attempts to set local school calendars: It allows schools to start back as early as the third Monday of August, rather than holding them to the agrarian, post-Labor Day schedule that the businesses on the beach seem to think will benefit them. But then, if you want to talk practicalities, the whole notion that starting school in August somehow shortens the summer vacation is nutty: An early start means kids get out of school by the end of May instead of mid-June. The actual length of summer vacation is the same no matter when it starts and stops.
I was willing to go along with all but one word of that. I paused in the editing process to send an instant message to the writer:
A couple of points re this…
1. Summer vacation IS shorter than it used to be. Kids didn’t get off in mid-June; they got off around Memorial Day.
2. August is more summery than June. It’s hotter. In June, the ocean water is sometimes still cold. Most of June occurs in the spring. All of August (and most of September) occur during the summer.
I guess what I’m saying here is, I object to "nutty." "Unconvincing," perhaps — at least, to a consensus of our board.
So, being the editor, I changed the word, and the writer did not protest. But she still thinks it’s nutty.