Well, there’s just no way to sugar-coat this, so I’ll go ahead and tell you what I’ll be telling you on the Friday editorial page:
No separate op-ed page today
Starting today, The State will not have separate op-ed pages on Fridays and Mondays. This is a cost-saving measure, reducing our newsprint expenditure. Instead, we will frequently run a syndicated column on this page on Fridays, and a local guest column on the Monday letters page. We also invite readers to explore our offerings at thestate.com/opinion, and Brad Warthen’s Blog at blogs.thestate.com.
— The Editors
This is a continuation of the painful recent cutbacks we’ve experienced in personnel and operational funds. As I’ve mentioned before, Mike Fitts’ departure brought the editorial staff down to less than half what I had at the start of this decade. Our elimination of Saturday pages earlier this year was a reflection of both the staff cutbacks — so few people can only do so much — and newsprint savings. This one is pretty much all about the newsprint.
You don’t like this? Well, guess what? I’m pretty sure I hate it a lot more than you do. All of us do. There’s nothing we can do about losing these pages, so we struggle constantly to figure out what we CAN do instead to keep serving readers. (What do you think this blog is about, for instance?)
Consider the earlier "cutbacks." When we eliminated staff-written editorials on Mondays, we gave you a full page of letters that otherwise would not have been published, and added the blograil feature. You’d be surprised how much staff time those take.
Then, when we eliminated the Saturday pages, we launched the Saturday Web-only super-op-ed page, with a whole lot more content than we could get into the paper (plus video). Yeah, that’s been an unpopular move with many — but the people who complain about the Saturday feature don’t seem to understand that it’s not a choice between that and having our pages in the Saturday paper, it’s a choice between that and nothing. And believe me, it takes a lot more trouble to produce that Web page than "nothing" would.
Now this, the loss of those half-pages on Monday and Friday. What that means is that on each of those days, we’re losing two columns (one syndicated, one local) and maybe a syndicated cartoon. So far, our best idea for compensating for that is to put a syndicated column on the Friday page whenever we don’t have an overriding staff-written column (and that’s happened about once a week in the past; this just pushes that event to Fridays), and put a local guest column on the Monday letters page. That means in both cases fewer letters.
It probably will NOT mean fewer staff-written columns. Our first and foremost priority is always South Carolina — you can get news and commentary about the rest of the world from a thousand sources, but what Warren and Cindi are able to say about local and state issues is something you can’t get anywhere else. But since we "frequently" have one weekday without a staff column — today’s page was an example of that — we’ll just try to push that vacancy to Fridays, and run a syndicated column there instead of the long letter and the secondary cartoon.
We’re still scrambling to figure out what else we can provide, and I’ve been really pleased at the initiative shown by my colleagues under these circumstances. Warren Bolton, who just became a proud Papa for the second time and took some family leave, surprised me with an editorial (which ended up on the Sunday page) and a column written from home last week. I’m grateful to Cindi for suggesting today (and making it happen, which is more valuable) that we post the Charles Krauthammer column that I almost used on the Friday page (we used Kathleen Parker instead) online. We’re going to have to start doing that more systematically, not just on Saturdays.
Robert Ariail today offered up an extra cartoon for the Monday letters page. Randle Christian, our letters editor, came to me while I was typing this post to suggest a better way to use the Web to provide more letters on the election. More work for each of them, of course.
There aren’t as many of us as there were, but I’m proud and privileged to work with each of the folks I have. They’re all striving harder than ever to fulfill our mission of providing a forum for discussing the issues of greatest importance to our community.
And we welcome your suggestions as to how we can do that better.