Mission Impossible: A Balancing Act

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Well, it has been five weeks since I assumed the chairmanship of the Suffield Observer. In that time I attended two Editorial Board meetings, held the Monday after an issue is released, where our Editor-Chief, the co-editors for the next edition, and various others who work on the paper critique the last edition in detail, both the good and the bad. They review what “worked”, and what did not. They note with disdain a stray comma that managed to escape caption by our volunteer proofreaders prior to the paper being sent to the printer. They discuss any feedback from the community, happily accepting praise in short order before moving on to any criticism, and diligently debate whether a complaint has merit and, if so, what can be done about it. They then must turn to ideas for articles for the next edition, deciding what topics should be the subject covered in the next edition and which of its volunteer writers would be best to write the article.

I also witnessed the delivery of the February edition, the first during my tenure. This occurred exclusively due to the efforts of dozens of bright, energetic, dedicated volunteers of all ages. During a period of one month these volunteers wrote many of the articles, took many of the photographs, “downloaded” submissions (which entail reformatting it in a way to facilitate editing and changing the size, resolution etc. of the pictures to make them usable). They edited the articles, laid out the paper deciding where each article, picture and advertisement should be placed, and “quarked” everything so it was properly formatted for printing. Finally the volunteers proofread the paper, from beginning to end, and then transmitted it to the publisher so that it could be printed and mailed to everyone in town, free of charge, hopefully by the first of the month.

Lastly I oversaw a Directors meeting, where we addressed an increase in our tax assessment, an increase in our rent (the first in many years, thank you), and other typical issues necessary to ensure the financial viability the organization almost exclusively dependent on the advertising revenue from our sponsors (please support them.) We then moved on to assess various good faith complaints received from the community, to determine whether we were operating consistent with our mission. We determined that a few tweaks were prudent, but that we were.

By way of historical background, The Observer was established at a time when our little town was going through an uncharacteristically polarized period. The initial mission statement for the newspaper was “to build a sense of community…” As a result we will not publish personal attacks and submissions “lacking in civility.”

Later a secondary goal was added, “to provide a forum where all sides of an issue may be addressed.” The addition was appropriate, but necessarily created a tension with the first goal when controversial topics were the subject. The editors exercise discretion trying to balance the two. For example, recently when too many articles were submitted on one side of an issue, they were able to solicit an article presenting a counterview. That, of course, is not possible with a political cartoon, given that we only have access to the talents of one talented cartoonist willing to donate work product. But as we advise every month, unless the article is written by the Editorial Board it reflects the view of the author, not the paper.

I conclude by encouraging you to get involved with The Observer. All the skills necessarily to assist can be taught. Commitment times vary to accommodate volunteers’ schedules. This is a community paper, and the more members of our community who become part of the paper the more we can satisfy our mission.

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