Cheryl Reed Writes In to CHICAGO CARLESS

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(Photo: Taller than the original, but not necessarily loftier. Credit: PostPunkKitchen.)

On Friday, I opined about the deliberate lack of editorial direction on the Commentary page of the Chicago Sun-Times. My criticism stemmed from comments made by Cheryl Reed, the Sun-Times editor in charge of the page, at a Publicity Club of Chicago luncheon last Wednesday. The gist of those comments: that the opinions that appear in the editorial pages of the Sun-Times–most notably, the newspaper’s own editorials–are only those that Sun-Times readers would agree with.

Either, as I have often said, Chicago Carless resides in the RSS subscriptions of more than a few local reporters, or Reed likes to spend her Sundays Googling her clips. Either way, Sunday afternoon I received a response from Reed rebutting my blog post. Reed left her rebuttal in the comment thread of the post in question, where I, in turn, left Reed a follow-up response.

Rather than let that dialogue rest hidden in Friday’s comment thread, I put it to regular readers to decide for themselves the likelihood that the comments I maintain Reed made actually occurred–not to mention their implications.
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Mr. Doyle,

I understand now why you are not working at a daily newspaper, you obviously don’t know how to take notes. You have completely misrepresented and misquoted what I said. I never said “we write for people on the Southwest side.” That’s totally inaccurate. What I said was that we are aware of who our readers are and we don’t try to preach to them as early generations did. We try to engage our readers on issues that are relevant to their lives. In fact, I made a big issue about how we don’t just check off a list of topics that everyone expects from a liberal paper. As I said, we want people to pick up the paper not knowing what we will say, but certainly that we will make them reconsider issues. Perhaps you should have been paying better attention instead of chewing on your chicken.

Cheryl Reed
2007-12-09 14:56:41
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[Mike Doyle responds to Ms. Reed…]

Points to Cheryl for pithiness. However, I and the rest of my table heard what I quoted.

That’s the danger with getting up on a podium. Sometimes in trying to come across as relevant, you stray far from your originally intended notes, in some cases engendering visceral and negative responses from your own allies. I would give Reed credit if that were the case here.

According to Reed it isn’t, but I know what I heard at last week’s event. And no matter how wryly the editor of the Sun-Times Commentary page wants to frame her response, I was not the only person disappointed with her comments.

In fact, the woman seated to my left, a PR professional working in the finance industry and living in the Chicago suburbs felt markedly insulted by the “southwest side” comment. She let me and others at my table know that if the Sun-Times didn’t care about suburban readers maybe she shouldn’t bother buying the Sun-Times anymore.

Reed’s comments indeed included numerous references to putting only that content on the Commentary page that a Sun-Times reader would agree with. In fact, Reed made a point of noting that Sun-Times research shows that readers are more interested in hearing each other’s opinions than the newspaper’s opinion.

That may explain Reed’s comments (last week and noted in her above response) that she doesn’t want readers to expect the editorial opinions they read on the Commentary page. However, a surprising editorial page is not the same thing as a relevant one.

An inconsistent stance on the pressing issues of the day is neither a hallmark of journalistic integrity nor of the fight for socially progressive change. I fail to see how a newspaper with a deliberately inconsistent editorial voice can be taken seriously on either playing field.

I would have more faith in Reed if she had just come out and said her job on the Commentary page is simply to sell more newspapers, nothing less, and nothing more.

If there’s a more socially redeeming aim hidden in Reed’s comments, I can’t find it. And I can stand behind that comment without a smirk on my face. No matter how good the chicken was.

Mike Doyle
2007-12-09 15:09:52

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