The highest and best use of an editorial page

Look! The local newspaper has given us another Editorial of the Third Kind (i.e., FILLER) in which they praise the work of a worthy organization. Today, it’s the Dane County United Way. The Dane County United Way is — absolutely and unquestionably — a force for good, and so we, too, here and now, offer our praise, also, for this worthy, local organization:

Statement. From TheDailyTissue, For Immediate Release:

TheDailyTissue.com stands steadfastly behind the tireless work of the Dane County United Way.  Further, we denounce and reject all enemies of the Dane County United Way, if any shall appear. 

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Now, is there anything wrong with offering easy praise for the praiseworthy? Well, a newspaper could certainly do worse. As we have said previously, it’s possible that ‘praise-filler’ is as good as the WSJ editorials get.

Praise-filler at least does no harm, even if it offers a thought that no one doesn’t already think.

The only quibble lies in opportunity lost. Real estate appraisers consider the “highest and best use” of property when they consider its value.

A popcorn stand located on the lake might be nearly valueless as used today, but if the same real estate were used for condominiums, the value would skyrocket. The “highest and best use” (in terms of financial valuation) is elsewhere, so the value of the real estate can’t be fully judged by looking at its current [popcorn stand] use.

Is it necessary to continue this discussion as regards the State Journal editorial page?


Palookaville Post: ‘Chocolate better than vanilla’

Apology:

This article refers to a publication (the “Palookaville Post”) which we originally thought was imaginary… apocryphal… made up (by us). We were mistaken. It turns out the Palookaville Post really exists, and we apologize. We were looking for a name that suggested smallness. “Palookaville” came to mind. We should’ve checked to see whether such a Palookaville publication actually existed. We didn’t. Our bad.

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All too often, as we describe the editorial page of the Wisconsin State Journal, we find ourselves using “scare quotes“… i.e., “editorial” rather than editorial, because at least in our view the day’s effort just barely qualifies.

Simply publishing an opinion about some random thing is not enough.

If a newspaper editorializes:

Chocolate is better than vanilla. Not everyone agrees, but that’s what we think!

It’s at once idiotic and yet far more interesting than today’s State Journal “editorial” — Lot’s more we can do here — which is a fairly humdrum news story dressed up as an editorial. County Exec Joe Parisi has formed a committee to explore how to use the county’s Alliant Energy Center more effectively. It’s a fine idea. Nice to see government operating appropriately. The article describes who, what, when, where, why, and includes such incisive nuggets as

That’s smart.

That’s reasonable.

That’s the right attitude.

Jiminy! It’s a big, not-just-interesting, but fascinating world out there.  And this is what Madison, the nation’s 80th largest media market, deserves to read this morning?  This is what occupies the attention of the WSJ editorial page editor?

Let’s check over at the New York Times…. Wow, home run.

EDITORIAL

So Who’s a Lobbyist?

Published: January 26, 2012

Under the federal lobbying law, Newt Gingrich can legitimately claim that he is not a lobbyist. That alone demonstrates how much the law needs to be changed….

Critically important topic! Why, there’s even an available tie-in to Wisconsin. Tommy Thompson has filed financial disclosures that show (for the umpteenth time) how a former government official can quickly become a multi-millionaire lobbyist.

Of course, the Wisconsin State Journal is not the New York Times.  But neither is it the Palookaville Post.

Is it?


Look What We Can Do

photo by Paula Lobo

What is an “editorial”?

The Oxford dictionary defines it as:

“A newspaper article expressing the editor’s opinion on a topical issue”

That may be the ordinary definition. But the Wisconsin State Journal has a modern sensibility. They’re struggling to remain relevant in difficult times by working outside the box. The WSJ editorial board has out-of-the-box thinkers.

You may recall that less than a week ago, they devoted their entire “editorial” to a UW basketball player’s hair, so really anything can serve.

Today the editorial is about the president of the local chamber of commerce, who has announced that one full year from now, she will retire.  It seems an insufficient topic for the day’s editorial… But it makes an unintentional point.

News is delivered by organizations with no solemn oaths and no explicit contracts with their readers. Editorial boards are not elected. They cannot be un-elected. The only real countermeasure for readers is to stop buying.


Unusual Specimen

The Wisconsin State Journal offers today another of its “Filler” editorials.

Serious collectors, like us, are usually unexcited by these ‘Fillers’. But today’s editorial, “Thanks for another year of giving,” is an novus proprius (an unusual specimen)!

Let’s quickly review what a Filler editorial is. Two things:

  1. A Filler typically praises the good work of some community group or effort.
  2. A Filler is easy to write. Really easy. Often, it’s little more than a press release that flew in over the transom.

A quick look at the Index of Recent Editorials, shows that a whopping 24.5% of the State Journal’s editorials are “Fillers.”

But while most Fillers praise others, today’s Filler praises the State Journal itself, beginning,

Every kid deserves a toy on Christmas morning. That was the thought that launched the Wisconsin State Journal’s Empty Stocking Club 93 years ago, and that’s the thought that still drives it today.

We actually think they do a good job of walking a razor’s edge between self-serving narcissism and raising money for the kids. Go read it and judge for yourself.

It should be pretty well-crafted, because they’ve been working on it for 93 years.

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Contributions:


Lake Lovers Unite

Is there anyone in Dane County who doesn’t love our lakes? We’ve never met ’em.

Is there anyone who likes the summer algae bloom? No one, except maybe that one guy on State Street and he’s nuts. (Well, he is.)

So when the Wisconsin State Journal put together its Sunday editorial, “Lakes need year-round love”, it was guaranteed to be uncontroversial, and, well, perfectly fine.

It’s a “Filler” editorial (Type 3 in the 5 Types), and Filler editorials are always fine. The Filler editorial praises some worthy effort or group, say, the Girl Scouts. The last Filler praised the Chazen Museum.  Today they praise the Clean Lakes Alliance, actually a pretty nice choice, because the Alliance is just barely two years old, and not as well-known as many of the other praiseworthy organizations likely to draw a salute in the Sunday paper.

The Clean Lakes Alliance is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization “dedicated to the improvement and protection of the lakes, streams and wetlands of the Yahara Watershed.”

After poking around its website for an hour today, we are astonished to say, it’s brought together basically everyone. They’ve got University experts talking with business leaders. Farmers are involved. Dane County elected leaders and Dane County staff. They’ve got corporations contributing fairly serious money and time, they’ve got a professional media strategy, a small staff, and all the necessary connections to succeed. That’s just a partial list.

Their goal: Cut phosphorous in the Yahara Watershed by 50%. They’ve hired an engineering study to prioritize how to do it, report due back in January, 2012.

This is actually going to succeed; you can feel it.


New Chazen Art Museum has Groovy Vibe


Clown by Christiaan Karel Appel, 1954, oil on burlap

Clown by Christiaan Karel Appel, 1954, oil on burlap. One of 20,000 pieces in the Chazen collection.

The newly expanded Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus has been open for just over a month, and today the Wisconsin State Journal gives it a nod in one of it’s Filler editorials.

Words like “vibe,” “off-beat,” and “quirky” are always required when the State Journal visits Williamson Street. Turns out, the same usage is needed when the Journal goes to an Art Museum. But still, for today we believe the editorial page has it’s normally cold, commercial heart in the right place, so we say to the WSJ, “Right on, Daddy-o!”


Wisconsin State Journal contemplates at least one new job

Late yesterday, when we read the Wis State Journal editorial — “Foster more Epics across region” — we were stunned by its apparent randomness.

Nearby (i.e., Verona, Wisconsin) Epic software is growing fast and hiring staff.  Epic develops medical software systems, a hot niche in a rotten economy.

Now the State Journal regularly publishes light-weight Filler editorials praising this or that, but didn’t they just– yes, they published one about Epic just two months ago (9-21-2011) (Here’s what we had to say about it.)

What’s going on? The governor can’t claim any credit for Epic, nor does the editorial suggest he could. Privately held Epic isn’t a venture capital story. Wouldn’t there be lots of topics they could better editorialize about? Are they picking just random thoughts to write about ? What’s going on?

And then a reasonable hypothesis came to mind. Someone is looking for a job. When this odd little editorial waxes poetic, like this

Epic’s new and third office cluster will be built at the south end of the company’s sprawling property. Two buildings will nestle in front of a grove of hardwood trees while a third will sit beside an orchard of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees.

maybe someone is imagining himself in that picture.


Hooray for charity

The Wisconsin State Journal today urges us to “Ring in big year for the Salvation Army.” And, yes, of course, we hope the annual holiday bell-ringing, and volunteering, and donating raises a record amount, because it’s sorely needed, more than ever.

(Make online donations here for Salvation Army or here for Second Harvest.)

This, of course, is what we call a  Wisconsin State Journal “Type 3 Filler Editorial”. Just to remind any new readers, the Type 3 Filler editorial is identified as follows:

3.  Filler.  Deadlines arrive relentlessly.  When nothing else is ready to print, the WSJ might praise the Girl Scouts, or bratwursts, or being neighborly. They might remind us to always have spare batteries for our flashlights. Or they might take someone else’s press release or a piece of their own reporting and rewrite it slightly, adding their own editorial “take”.  The Filler takes just minutes to prepare and serve.

Now, in today’s case this boost for the Salvation Army wasn’t driven by a deadline. It’s probably printed more-or-less annually, as a boilerplate “filler editorial.”  And it serves a good purpose. Filler editorials often promote a good cause or organization.

If we were to make some serious point about today’s editorial (and that’s generally why we’re here), it would be to note that this editorial — so obvious and un-challenging and easy and quick — is actually high-scoring work for the WSJ editorial page. It’s about as good as the editorials get. Here today, at least they are doing no harm.

But the general record is poor. What you’d hope for — and maybe expect, at least until expectations are dashed — is for an editorial page that says something insightful. The job of editorial writer is a privileged position. When you take such a job, you hold yourself out as someone with something to say, something worthwhile. You’re holding yourself out as a public intellectual, a person whose thinking and writing will pay rewards to readers. But there is no such payback to the reader of this editorial page.

The State Journal has entirely missed the central, downward arc of America’s hopes in the last several decades. The gradual capture of government by wealthy corporate and private interests is now so well-advanced that unemployed 20-year-old’s can discuss it. But our local full-time, paid, professional, public intellectuals — entrusted with the largest, broadest-reaching vehicle in Dane County — cannot seem to get their heads around it.


All in [1/8th of] a day’s work

In still another puzzling “editorial” the Wisconsin State Journal praises the decision in Armonk, New York, to name Virginia Rometty CEO of IBM.

Rometty

Meanwhile: While the State Journal was at an utter loss to say anything useful today, former mayor Dave Cieslewics, blogging at The Daily Page, is fearless (in

several senses of the word) discussing Wisconsin’s new concealed carry gun law. Good for him. Quick takeaways: 1) Cieslewics isn’t afraid of the NRA, 2) or else he’s done running for public office, and 3) switchblade and machine gun manufacturers need much better lobbyists. They must be kicking themselves for not riding this tide. Today, more than 80,000 people downloaded Wisconsin concealed carry applications, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Wisconsin State Journal channels Wikipedia

In its October 25 editorial, The Badgers Fall From Grace, the Wisconsin State Journal loses its train of thought for a while, and curiously rewrites the Wikipedia entry for “Hail Mary pass“.

We LIKE the rewrite, however. We find the State Journal version to be more concise.

But we can’t decide why they published it. Is it a normal Type 3 Filler, slapped together to meet deadline? Or is it a Type 4 Distractor editorial?  And if so, what are they distracting us from?

The question was answered in the usual way, by conferring with other-Senior Editor D. She put the matter to rest by ruling that it doesn’t matter.

Not one little bit?

No.

[Well, I'm calling it a Distractor.  -- Senior Editor J]