In the past couple months we’ve been flooded with Community Voices, our version of citizen commentary that is a cross between op-eds and letters to the editor.
Blame a lot of it on Mauna Kea. That’s a topic that received so many submissions we had to start turning them down.
But we’ve also had a few government and elected officials who took umbrage with Civil Beat’s reporting on a few stories and wanted to counter with their view of an issue.
People are often surprised and unhappy that we don’t just publish whatever they write, no matter what it says.
But there is still real need these days to participate in the public conversation on a whole lot of issues, and we want to encourage a robust discussion by providing a widely disseminated platform for people to share their thoughts. It’s part of our mission to be a virtual town square, a place where people can raise and discuss all kinds of ideas.
You’ll find the basic info at the bottom of every Community Voice:
But here are a few more things you should know.
• We do edit your submission. We try to keep a light touch for the most part because we want to respect that this is your view and your voice. We do edit for style (we follow Associated Press style as much as possible) and grammar. We don’t knowingly print factual inaccuracies, including misrepresentations of public events, statements by public officials or assertions about public issues or public policy.
• Fairness is important even in commentary. We sometimes get columns from people who have a particular gripe with a particular organization or even a person within an agency. We rarely publish those. Anything that cries out for a response from the other side is a problem for us, unless it is a topic of such broad discussion that each side’s views are well known.
• Length is an issue, even on the internet. Most people don’t have time to read more than 600 to 800 words. Community Voices are supposed to be essays on issues, not point-by-point litigation of topics or white papers.
• No orchestrated campaigns. Commentary must not have been published elsewhere. We don’t want to get caught in orchestrated lobbying campaigns so with few exceptions we don’t print op-eds that have been submitted or published in other publications, including other websites or circulated heavily on social media.
• We welcome your feedback — or even push back — on Civil Beat stories and columns. Sometimes subjects of our news stories and opinion pieces call to complain about our reporting. If we disagree that we’ve made a factual error, we generally invite them to submit a Community Voice expanding on or clarifying their position. However, we won’t allow the piece to misconstrue our reporting.
We don’t want the Community Voices section to become a dumping ground for column after column on the same issue. After more than 30 commentaries on Mauna Kea in less than two months, what was left to say that was new or intriguing? Now we’re primarily looking for pieces that offer solutions or a way to move forward, not just re-stating support or opposition for the Thirty Meter Telescope.
We’ve had to draw the line in the past on other issues — GMOs, pesticides, the Honolulu rail project, to name a few.
Chad Blair is our opinion editor and puts together the Community Voices. He is happy to work with you on your piece so that it will meet our guidelines and tests for accuracy and fairness. We don’t have the capacity to fact check every piece, but you will be asked to provide documentation of factual assertions if necessary.
Chad often runs these pieces by the other editors, including me, and we sometimes decide that the submission isn’t something we want to print. That almost always is because something in the column would, out of fairness, require a call to the person, business, agency or organization in question to see what they have to say about it.
Community Voices have become an important part of Civil Beat. They are sometimes the most popular story on the site. They get thousands of page views, are shared widely on social media and draw dozens of comments.
So please keep those cards and letters coming, folks.
Editor’s Note: Readers often wonder about the reporting and editing process and other news practices. We think it’s important to explain our decisions and do so from time to time in our ongoing series called “Behind The Story.” For even more information about how Civil Beat and other news outlets do their journalism, check out our “Understanding The News” section.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.