Editor’s column: The business of running a newspaper is unique and often misunderstood

The inner workings of newspapers, especially small community newspapers, are a mystery to many people.

The inner workings of newspapers, especially small community newspapers, are a mystery to many people.

For example, some resident are confused about the differences between editors and publishers.

For the record, I have been the editor of the Whidbey News-Times, the South Whidbey Record and Whidbey Crosswind for many years. I assign stories and discuss them with reporters, edit stories, decide where stories go on each page of the newspaper, deal with letters to the editor and write editorials. I hire and train reporters.

Since we have a small staff, I also write news stories. Readers may have noticed that I have predilection for courts and crime stories, as well as oddball happenings. Let me know about any haunted chicken coops, UFOs or naked hitchhikers.

A publisher is not involved with the news gathering, editing or running the newsroom. The publisher is the top manager of the newspaper. He or she is responsible for budgets, personnel and the overall success of the newspaper. The publisher is the spokesperson and the public face of the business.

Our new publisher, RJ Benner, has a successful background in marketing but is also a strong, energetic advocate for the newspapers and journalism. He has a voice in editorials and also writes an occasional column and restaurant review, as well as stories for special sections. But that’s the extent of his direct involvement in the newsroom.

Newspapers, and media in general, are counterintuitive as businesses models in some ways. Stories aren’t for sale. There is a bright line that separates the editorial and advertising sides of the business. Editors and reporters are not involved with ads. Advertising doesn’t affect what stories we write or how we write them.

Editorials, by the way, are different than columns, though they are both opinion pieces. Editorials represents the view of the newspaper as a whole — informed by our reporting — while columns like this one have bylines or named authors and represent the views of that individual. We run plenty of “Sound Off” columns by community leaders that don’t necessarily represent the newspaper’s point of view.

Letters to the editor also cause occasional consternation among our readers. People seem to think we pick letters to represent a certain view, but the truth is we run nearly all the letters we receive — except those from Nigerian princes who have millions of dollars to give away.

In fact, we could use considerably more letters from a wider range of residents.

Editors may be independent, but we’re not above begging. Please, I urge residents to dredge up opinions about local issues and send more letters to editor@whidbeynewsgroup.com.

After all, one thing that publishers and editors share is a desire and need to hear from the community.