Of all the bylines you’ll see in the Napa Valley Register, perhaps the most mysterious appears on the Opinion page: “Napa Valley Register Editorial Board.”
Who are these people, you might wonder.
At a larger newspaper, the “editorial board” is typically the full-time staff of the opinion page, writers and reporters who spend time investigating issues and writing columns, which express their own opinions, and editorials, which put forward a collective official position of the newspaper. Sometimes there is a member or two from the public to provide some external perspective.
We, of course, are too small to have a staff for the opinion page (or even a dedicated opinion page editor – that’s me, pretty much), so our editorial board consists primarily of outside community members – four of them who we’ve invited to assist me and our publisher, Brenda Speth, in directing our editorial positions.
But what does this board do? We use our editorial board as a way to investigate issues, talk to influential people, and build relationships in the community. Sometimes that results in an actual editorial (which we call “Our view”), sometimes it just serves to build bridges to the community or inform the coverage done by our reporters and editors.
Typically we meet once a week with an invited guest. This week, for example, we met with county officials, including the acting CEO and the chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, but over the years we’ve met with all kinds of people: arts organizations, philanthropists, educators, developers, politicians, activists groups such as Vision 2050, industry groups such as the Napa Valley Vintners and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation.
During election season, we also interview candidates in various races, with an eye toward making endorsements.
The meetings are a way for us to get to know these people outside the formal confines of the usual reporting process that goes into writing news stories. The meetings are on the record, but they tend to be informal, so the discussion can range widely. Our board members are free to ask questions or offer observations, which often tease out interesting angles.
We also use the meetings as a chance for our guests to ask us questions, offer us feedback on our coverage, and to suggest new topics and approaches we might not have thought of.
After the meetings, and after our guests have departed, we discuss what we’ve heard and decide if there is something we can make the subject of an editorial. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t, but almost always the meeting results in a thoughtful discussion that helps our news coverage or our approach to the community.
If we do write an editorial, I am the one who does the writing, in consultation with Brenda, who ultimately approves it. Our community board members advise and offer suggestions, critiques, and alternative viewpoints, which makes the process richer and more diverse.
So how do we choose guests? Sometimes we do the inviting – if there is some person, group or topic that seems interesting to our board, I reach out and see if the key players will meet with us.
More and more, however, people are asking us for a meeting. They contact me or Brenda and ask if they can come in to talk to us about their issues, positions, or concerns for the community. We don’t promise to take a particular position, or even write an editorial at all, but we do like to meet as many people as we can.
And we’re always looking for more guests; particularly those who can broaden our perspective, deepen our understanding, or help us address issues that we might not have covered thoroughly with our limited news resources.
If you’re interested in scheduling an editorial board meeting, call or email me and let’s talk about it.
You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.