Principles are a funny thing.
Every once in a while, you find yourself in a situation where your principles are challenged. And this past week, my principles were challenged.
Some background – I have always been personally upset with and generally opposed to opinion sections in newspapers. My biggest issue with them, more than anything, is that every newspaper seems to have a political bent, or a point-of-view, and pushes that point of view in its opinion section. Maybe it's the old-school journalist in me, but I find the whole concept of pushing a political agenda – whether it's on a national or local scope – kind of arcane.
First off, it's sometimes difficult for the average reader to differentiate between news and opinion. For example, take one look at the primetime lineup of any 24-hour news network to see blowhard "journalists" pawn their opinions off as news. Luckily, in newspapers – which I would argue, operates with infinitely more journalistic scruples than our television counterparts – we try to label our opinion section very plainly and obviously.
Secondly, many people looking for a political grudge match will connect a newspaper's opinion page with its news coverage. "They're only covering that or taking that angle because they're biased," they'd say.
For the record, in The Pueblo Chieftain offices, anyway, the opinion section and the news department or practically un-linked. Their news coverage is largely ignorant to the goings-on of the opinion page, no matter what you may have heard or suspected.
In The Pueblo West View, that distinction is a little bit less divided. There are only two of us (myself and Tracy Harmon) writing the homegrown stories here. I also write and organize the opinion page, and since I cover news as well, it's easier to draw a straight line between news and opinion with my name on it.
So, like a lawyer or a judge, I've done by best to recognize when a political or personal viewpoint is creeping in to my news coverage, and doing my best to overcome it or correct it.
It is for that reason that I not only shied away from taking a stance on these pages about any public policy issue (I wrote about this during our election season when it came to the Pueblo West roads question), but I also decided I don't want partisan political – the best word I could come up with is "crap" – to be on these pages.
But I'm questioning that now. Should I say "absolutely not" to any political speech on these pages?
In our "Letters to the Editor" section, I let everybody voice their opinion. I don't really care what it is or how partisan it is, as long as it doesn't threaten public welfare or constitute libel or slander.
The columns, though, like the one by former libertarian State Senate candidate John Pickerill in this week's Pueblo West View, kind of shoots my principles to shreds.
In our Sept. 20 issue, I called on the community to submit guest columns, and last week, Pickerill took me up on it. His column, though, is very much partisan and very much political.
My gut reaction was "no, I don't want this" simply for the partisan political reason. Secondly, he throws a bunch of statistics and figures out there that I simply didn't have time to confirm. Many letters to the editor during the election season cited figures, as well, but it was easier to fact-check those. Pickerill's column had far more figures.
If there's one thing I hate more than partisan politics, it's people who threaten the First Amendment. And I was about to do that. So, recognizing my bias, I stuck to The First and met with Pickerill to discuss his methodology.
You can read his opinion and decide if you agree, but like it or not, it was based on figures, and he showed me how easy it was to verify those figures.
I still stand by my principle of not having a particular political viewpoint in this newspaper, but I'm not about to deprive others of theirs.
Anthony Sandstrom, The View's associate editor, is a Pueblo West resident who has roots in the community dating back to 1980. In addition to serving as editor, he is also the sports reporter for The View. To contribute ideas or news tips, email him at email@example.com.