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Home > Publications > Quill > Editor: Opinion boards need a strong foundation in ethics


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Thursday, March 30, 2006
Editor: Opinion boards need a strong foundation in ethics

By Beth King

As he starts each new day at the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City, Jay Evensen is faced continually with ethical issues.

Evensen is editorial page editor for a newspaper that is wholly owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That alone brings with it a lot of assumptions and misperceptions on the part of readers and newsmakers. But according to Evensen, the most important aspect is keeping an open mind, while looking at issues that affect everyone.

“In my role, I’m not an overly opinionated guy,” Evensen said. “ … As members of the paper’s editorial board, my staff and I have one overriding goal, and that is to inform the public by presenting a variety of perspectives. That takes a clear, open mind and a concise set of ethics.”

As with many editorial boards, the Morning News’ seven-member unit meets daily to take positions on news of the day. Time also is spent speaking with community members and politicians to learn about key issues affecting news coverage. In what time is left, Evensen writes his Sunday column, and he and the staff of two other editorial writers respond to letters to the editor, research the issues, and write editorials.

“It’s not always bad to offend people. When I write, I try to imagine myself as an average reader, sitting at the breakfast table reading what we write. Then I ask myself, ‘Would that person be offended to the point beyond which any meaningful discussion could take place?’ That question alone drives ethical conversations.”

Taking a walk in the shoes of readers is appropriate, but beyond those jaunts, Evensen said, it is necessary to have internal policies for his staff. For example, when a writer disagrees with an issue the board takes, the writer is not forced to write. In instances where the newspaper may have a conflict of interest, Evensen insists that a sentence of explanation be included in every editorial.

“Transparency and an open agenda are imperative,” he said. “It’s also important to follow the SPJ Code of Ethics, which says voices must be given to those without voices. The public has the right to criticize, and they will do it, too.”

Those lessons along with insightful discussions about editorial writing follow Evensen outside of the newsroom, where he teaches the art and craft to students at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

“I often argue that it is wise to approach the issues objectively and to always be on the watch for new information,” he said. “Informed opinions are very important, not only to editorial writing, but also to any strong ethical foundation.”

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