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Editor's Column

"We've been criticized at the newspaper this week for printing letters to the editor from people unhappy with the conduct of local car dealers. The writers have made the same basic point: They feel ripped off. (There's another of these letters in today's paper.)We've been told by members of the business community that we're damaging the Whidbey Island business climate by printing these letters. My judgement as editor has been questioned for running a letter from Oak Harbor resident Misty Chaplin (Couple that bought truck feels taken for ride) as a Sound Off last Saturday. Chaplin bought a used truck, and in her letter said the local dealer she bought it from neglected to tell her it had been in a major accident and rebuilt with bondo.I shouldn't have given this letter such prominence, I've been told.This is an unfortunate situation. Customers feel ripped off by car dealers (an age-old story hardly unique to Whidbey), and car dealers are upset with the way they're being characterized in the local paper.And let me just put something else on the table here: Car dealers are major newspaper advertisers. If Oak Harbor car dealers are mad at the Whidbey News-Times for printing letters to the editor that are critical of the way they do business, they may feel less inclined to purchase advertising in this newspaper. That's obviously not good for the News-Times' bottom line.Newspapers wrestle with these issues more than you may realize. That is why, at every newspaper, there is a pretty distinct separation between the newsroom and the advertising sales staff. The newsroom gathers the editorial content of the paper. The ad staff gathers the advertising content. One hand often doesn't know what the other is doing - by design.I hope you can understand that I have to stay on the editorial side of the fence. If our newsroom staff was to start making editorial decisions based on what our advertisers most want, then we would present a partial, skewed version of the news.I'm sorry the local car dealers are mad at us. One of my goals as editor has been to cover the local business community in a positive manner. There are many people in Oak Harbor and Coupeville who work hard at building successful businesses and deserve recognition.But I consider it an even more important goal to accurately reflect the entire community in the pages of this newspaper, particularly on the opinion page. Right now, there are people in the community who are unhappy with our car dealers. I cannot and will not censor these viewpoints. At the same time, I invite the car dealers to tell us more about their businesses. The recent negative letters obviously do not present a complete picture. In fact, many of our car dealers give back to the community in dramatic ways. The local Chevrolet dealership, for example, recently gave - that's right, gave - a new car to a Navy officer who lost his wife in an accident.We don't relish negative news here at the newspaper. Nor do we have an agenda. We're simply trying to do the best job we can at the job you entrust us with, which is painting an accurate, day-to-day picture of the community we all live in.----------------Mike Page-English is editor of the News-Times. He can be reached at editor@whidbeynewstimes, or call 675-6611. "

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