A Modest Suggestion for the Inquirer’s Op-Ed Future

George Norcross is making a mistake. But there's still a chance for the newspaper to innovate.

City Paper’s Dan Denvir reports that the Inquirer will slash its op-ed pages in half, an edict from co-owner George Norcross, who reportedly wanted the entire section done away with, believing it’s the reason that many readers think the Inquirer is “biased.”

So instead of two pages of opinion a day, there’s only going to be one. How’s that going to look:

“We’re not happy,” says one source. “The worst thing about it is that this is the public’s section. This is their voice. They write us letters. All sorts of folks write op-eds.”

Here’s a suggestion—one that this writer, who enjoys writing opinion and getting paid for it, is hesitant to make: The Inquirer should make sure that the remaining page remains the public’s section.

In other words, a new-style Inky op-ed page can probably best serve the public by getting rid of the unsigned editorials, the wire-service columns, and cartoons (OK, maybe not the cartoons) and making it—with rare exception—a place almost entirely for community op-eds and letters to the editor.

Let’s face it: Do you remember the last unsigned “voice of the newspaper” editorial you read? Did it change your mind or help you see an issue differently? No? Giving the op-ed space over entirely to the public at least has the whiff of being innovative, instead of being another piece of evidence that the new newspaper owners are steering their toy in ways that create the least inconvenience for their other business and political interests.

If Denvir’s reporting is accurate, though, Norcross is misguided, because people—lots of them—will always believe that a newspaper is biased. Yes, readers have troubles distinguishing between the opinion and news pages and tend to conflate them, to no one’s benefit. But even the most perfectly neutral journalism in the world will be accused of bias, as long as it offers information that contrasts with somebody’s world view. And frankly, you should have that kind of journalism in the paper every day.

The flip side is that the Inquirer is down to just two metro columnist. If Norcross really believes that he’s saving the paper from perceptions of bias, that makes sense. But chances are many readers are going to just see the news pages as bland, as a result. A strong paper probably needs a few strong, identifiable voices to pull readers into the pages—even if it’s for some good old-fashioned hate reading.

In the meantime: There goes the dream of joining the Inky opinion staff someday. Oh well.