"Call the Editor", RIP

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On New Year's Day, the Tulsa Whirled announced the demise of the long-running "Call the Editor" feature, which the paper inherited after it drove the late, lamented Tulsa Tribune out of business in 1992, the Whirled having refused to renew their longstanding joint operating agreement.

"Call the Editor" worked like this: People called and left brief, anonymous comments on the news on an answering machine. Someone would then weed through the comments and a selection would be published each day.

The very act of selection creates an opportunity for bias. If calls in support of the City Council majority outnumbered calls in opposition by a 100-1 margin, the paper could publish one of each and claim they fairly represented both sides of the issue, although they would have misrepresented the relative intensity of opinion. Then again, anonymous calls to an answering machine don't represent a scientific sample of opinion. It could make for entertaining reading, but it was never one of my must-read features.

Anyway, "Call the Editor" is an outdated approach to commenting on news articles. So are letters to the editor. Blogs and message boards make it possible for anyone to comment publicly on any Whirled article, and to do so immediately, whether or not the Whirled wants to publish that comment. The only problem now is knowing where to look for that commentary. Someday, someone will set up a website to let you view a newspaper article in one frame and comments on that article in another. For now, I encourage people to register and use the TulsaNow forums.

(And before someone shouts "hypocrite," I plan to add non-anonymous comments to this blog as soon as I can install software to prevent comment spam. This being a one-man operation, I don't have time to be a comment cop. It probably won't happen this week, though. And in the meantime, you can comment all you like over at the TulsaNow forums.)

If you really want to call the editor, you still can: Many of the editorial board members are listed in the phone book, and they all have voice mail at the newspaper.

Here's the reason the Whirled gives for discontinuing the feature, with helpful translations in brackets:

With the addition of Datelines, however, we say goodbye to Call the Editor. Since 1992, when The Tulsa Tribune ceased publication, Call the Editor has been a mainstay on A-2 of the Tulsa World.

We believe that it is time to take a more positive approach to commentary in our community. [We are sick and tired of all of you telling us how rotten the paper is.] Despite careful editing [censorship], we believe and many of you have told us that Call the Editor has become extremely negative and divisive within our communities. [Our feelings are wounded. Get the iodine.] Call the Sports Editor, which appeared in the Sports section, also has been discontinued.

We still want to hear from you and give you an opportunity to express your views on everything from the Tulsa World to the world at large. However, we ask that you write your comments to our Opinion section. [That way we can sit on them for three weeks until no one can remember the article to which you responded.]

There, you'll be given the opportunity to put your name with your comments and stand up for your point of view. [If we agree with it.] Editorial Pages Editor Ken Neal plans to run more of your letters [through the shredder], and we look forward to carrying on Call the Editor's history of commentary in those letters.

If the Whirled really wants to end anonymous, destructive, negative, and divisive commentary, they should begin by firing the entire editorial board.

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The Tulsa Tribune had a feature called "Call the Editor," where readers got to call, if not necessarily the Editor, certainly the Editor's answering machine, and a sampling of... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 3, 2005 2:53 AM.

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