By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
SINCE YOU’RE reading this, we can assume you found us in our new location. Actually, Page D2 is sort of an old location for the Sunday editorial page. We were here for many years before jumping to the A section a little more than a year ago.
Being back on D2 feels like home to me; I hope it will make our pages more convenient each week for you as well.
But my purpose today is not to talk about a change already made, but one coming up. And this one is going to feel a lot less familiar to all of us.
Starting six days from now, we will no longer publish opinion and commentary pages on Saturdays in The State. Instead, we’ll unveil a new Web page featuring content of the sort that we would have published in the paper, only more of it. The new page will be called “Saturday Opinion Extra.”
Why are we doing this? Two reasons, which I’ll keep as simple as possible:
- We have to cut costs.
- There are things we can do online we can’t do in the paper.
Now, about the cost-cutting:
You may have read that newspapers don’t make as much money as they used to. We still make money, just not as much as the stock market demands. And when you’re a publicly traded company, you have no options: Making less money is something shareholders don’t stand for.
So you do two things: You work like crazy to bring in more revenue, which is not my department. And you cut costs, which does involve the editorial staff.
When we lost one writing position three years ago, we eliminated staff-written copy from our Monday pages. Now, faced with further reductions, we’re eliminating editorials from another day, plus eliminating two pages of newsprint a week.
But just as we replaced the staff copy with a lot more letters to the editor (one of the most popular features in the paper) on Mondays, you’ll get more content on Saturdays online than we could possibly put in the paper. For instance:
- We get far more syndicated and local guest columns than we can fit on our op-ed pages during the week. On our new Saturday Web page, we’ll be able to give you several op-ed pages worth of columns from the likes of David Broder, Kathleen Parker, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Cal Thomas, Paul Krugman and Charles Krauthammer.
- Add to that at least one column from a local writer, just as you would normally have received on Saturdays. But the particular columns we put online might be something you’d never have gotten in the paper. We often get more than one column in a month from such newsmakers as Gov. Mark Sanford (Columbia Mayor Bob Coble has submitted three this past month). But since space in the paper is at such a premium, we try to limit each writer to no more than one a month. We also turn down most columns that other newspapers have published. So we turn down some interesting, relevant columns — but finite space in the paper demands tough choices. Online space is virtually unlimited, so you’ll get additional chances to read what newsmakers, and others, are thinking.
- You will see at least as many letters to the editor online as you would have received in the paper, with the added bonus that some of them will be letters held out for no reason other than that they were too long for our page, and didn’t lend themselves to trimming.
- We regularly shoot video during editorial board interviews with newsmakers. I’ve been using some of it on my blog the last couple of years, but sporadically; the Saturday Opinion Extra page gives us a place to showcase some of the most interesting footage from the past week.
- You’ll find links to such things as a new, improved page devoted to Robert Ariail’s recent cartoons, featuring such DVD-style bonus features as unpublished sketches, archives, and video of Robert talking about what he does. (There will also be links to recent posts on my blog, of course.)
That’s the content we’ll be starting with, and I hope you will suggest more.
This is a big and scary step for us in the editorial department. We have always published editorial and op-ed pages daily, and departing from that feels a little like stepping off something firm and secure into thin air.
But like skydiving, it’s also pretty exciting. Ever since the 1980s — since before there was a Worldwide Web — I’ve been interested in the potential of an electronic opinion forum, with immediacy and interactivity you can’t get on paper. That’s why I started the blog; this takes us another step.
Sure, we’ve let our paper content flow onto the Web for years, but we’ve hardly scratched the surface of what we can do there in the opinion realm. The editorial board needs to turn some attention to better serving the 800,000 unique visitors who come to thestate.com each month.
Please check out this new feature on Saturday, and let us know what you think of it. Even more than a published page, this new venture will always be a living work in progress, and I’m counting on our readers to help us shape it.