What Do People Mean?

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 I have been involved with The Suffield Observer for many years. During that time, it’s not unusual to hear comments from people working on the paper, as well as from citizens in town, saying the paper is too liberal; I wish the paper would be more middle of the road or conservative.

I find this characterization interesting, because most people associate the label conservative or liberal, with national or state political issues. The people who work on the paper are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. The list of registered voters in Suffield is almost evenly divided into thirds between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

So, what do people mean when labeling the Observer too liberal? I looked at aspects of the paper to determine if this label seems correct. A significant portion of the paper is made up of articles about kids and adults doing things in town such as sports, gardening, and different organizations writing stories about church or school activities. Another percentage of stories is about proposals or plans put forth by Town officials or the schools. The writers of these stories typically report what is happening at commission, Selectmen, or Finance Board meetings. They also report on the progress of different town projects. The stories tend to be straight-forward trying to communicate how town government is proceeding on various projects. This doesn’t seem to fit the label of liberal or conservative.

Many, but not all issues of the Observer have letters written by residents voicing their concerns or opinions on different matters. These letters are the opinions of the writers, again, not what one would label the paper as liberal or conservative. In the same vein, every issue has one or two editorials. Clearly the writers take a position on an issue. For example, the last issue had an editorial expressing support for a town manager. No doubt this is a local political issue, but an issue supported by many residents of varying political persuasions. Editorials are political, but the paper’s position clearly states that this is the opinion of the writer and not the paper’s position.

Probably the one section that many people feel is too political is Rick Stromoski’s cartoon. The last issue’s cartoon on the community center was definitely political, but not necessarily liberal or conservative because voters on the issue were of all political persuasions. Though one could argue that the cartoonist was biased, that is the nature of political cartoons. Cartoons portray a unique perspective on an issue, certainly a bias some or many readers don’t agree with. Again, the paper is clear when it states that this is the cartoonist’s opinion and not the paper’s position. An unscientific review of the last twenty-five issues of the paper’s cartoons dating back to September 2017, was interesting. I categorized eleven cartoons as politically inclined toward either a local or national issue. Fourteen cartoons were not political, such as one telling people to vote another about going on vacation.

The last section of the paper that could be construed as political is the First Selectmen’s column. For the last fifteen years all the First Selectmen have had the opportunity to write a column in the paper. All the First Selectman have taken this opportunity to inform the community about projects they are promoting or issues that the town is dealing with. They also write about upcoming special events or describe parts of the proposed budget. This column could be construed as political for promoting what the First Selectman views as best for the town.

So, is The Suffield Observer conservative or liberal? My conclusions are that letters to the editor, some cartoons, editorials, and the First Selectman’s column are often political, but not necessarily liberal or conservative. Usually, they express opinions about local issues. Certainly, they try to persuade readers to agree with their position, but not necessarily because their position is liberal or conservative, but rather because it is what the author thinks is best for Suffield.

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