Post-Gazette Opinion pages: FAQ

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This online section presents editorials by the Post-Gazette, letters to the editor, Perspectives and Forum pieces and cartoons by Rob Rogers.

Published below are submission guidelines for our section, followed by essays offering insight into the editorial process.


 

HOW TO SUBMIT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The Post-Gazette welcomes your letters. Please include your address and phone number for verification. Pseudonyms or anonymous letters are not published. All letters are subject to editing. We ask that letters be exclusive to the PG. We regret that we can neither print nor acknowledge all the correspondence we receive. Letters accepted for publication appear in our print edition and on our website.

E-mail: letters@post-gazette.com

Fax: (412) 263-2014

U.S. Mail: Letters to the Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222


 

POST-GAZETTE POLICY FOR PUBLISHING LETTERS

The Post-Gazette edits letters for length and checks factual content. Letters should be no more than 250 words and should address no more than one topic. Letters that are concise have a better chance of being used.

Also, the Post-Gazette limits letter writers to no more than one letter every three months; however, this is not a promise that every letter submitted within those guidelines can be used. These policies allow us to have more readers' viewpoints printed in a limited amount of space. Occasionally, we do make exceptions and allow longer letters to be printed, particularly if an organization or person who has been the subject of a news story wants to respond.

Those who have written letters being considered for publication will be contacted by the Post-Gazette. This is not a promise that the letter will be used, but we try to use most letters for which the writer has been contacted.


 

HOW TO SUBMIT A GUEST COLUMN OR ESSAY

The Post-Gazette encourages you to submit opinion articles for use on the Perspectives pages and in the Sunday Forum section. Here are submission guidelines, along with background information for first-time writers.

Send the piece by one of the following methods:

E-mail: opinion@post-gazette.com (It's easier to read text in the e-mail message, but we can accept Word files.)

Fax: 412-263-2606 (Attn: Opinion Page)

U.S. Mail: Opinion Page, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222

The ideal op-ed article is a compelling argument about a timely topic by someone in a position of expertise. The writing must be clear and accessible to the general reader. Standard length is between 600 and 800 words. We publish longer pieces in the Sunday Forum.

Our "First Person" feature is a venue for personal essays. We prefer pieces that are topical, linked to the news of the day. But graceful writing, strong voice and humor are the key elements.

An op-ed is not a direct response to an article or commentary published in the Post-Gazette. If you want to offer your own opinion on an issue, feel free to submit an opinion column. In short, an op-ed must be free-standing, not a point-by-point reply to something published in the newspaper. We occasionally publish responses to op-eds and news articles under the heading "In Rebuttal"; they run between 400 and 600 words.

Because we publish so many nationally syndicated columns, we give priority to local writers writing on local topics. We generally don't use unsolicited freelance pieces on national and international issues from outside the region unless the writer has special knowledge or the topic is of local interest.

We welcome query letters. If the subject is appealing, we can let you know what approach works best at the moment.

If the piece is accepted for publication, you will be contacted right away. We require exclusivity in southwestern Pennsylvania. We pay between $50 and $100 for most pieces by freelance writers (though, as is customary, we don't pay writers from advocacy groups or government officials). Op-eds original to the Post-Gazette are posted on our website.


 

HOW TO SUBMIT A POEM FOR POSSIBLE PUBLICATION

Since 1994, the Post-Gazette has published original poetry every Saturday on the Weekend Perspectives page. We encourage you to submit work for consideration. Here are the guidelines, along with background information for those submitting for the first time.

E-mail: gvictor@post-gazette.com

Fax: 412-263-2014 (Attn: Greg Victor)

U.S. Mail: Greg Victor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34 Boulevard of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222

Please include your name and phone number on every page and include a cover letter. A brief bio is helpful, though not required.

Please submit no more than three poems at one time. Ideal length is no longer than 30 lines, with stanza breaks. Very long poems, or poems that take on a whimsical shape, like a house or a Christmas tree, cannot be published because of layout restrictions. We believe in poetic license -- but this is a newspaper. We cannot use a poem that contains profanity or themes not suitable for publication elsewhere in the paper.

We look for good use of language, sensitive and unique treatment of subject and overall originality. Writers we are likely to select have a tie to Pittsburgh or our circulation area, but do not necessarily have to be residents at the time.

If your poem is selected for publication, we will contact you in the week prior to the poem's publication. We don't offer payment. You are free to submit published work elsewhere without seeking the PG's permission.

Because of the volume of submissions, we are not able to notify all writers whose work is not selected.


 

INSIDE THE OPINION PAGES

By Tom Waseleski
Post-Gazette Editorial Page Editor

It's all about conversations. Readers having conversations with their neighbors. Editorial writers having conversations with their readers. A newspaper having conversations with the community.

That is the purpose, and the tradition, of the Post-Gazette editorial page. Like a lot of conversations, the ones you'll find here can be serious or funny, subdued or high-spirited. The point is that we continue to have them -- in print, online and over the phone.

In print, the conversations that editorial writers have run down the left side of the page, in pieces that carry no byline. They also appear online. These are the newspaper's "editorials," the consensus by the Post-Gazette Editorial Board on the issues of the day. Readers sometimes call their views editorials, too, but those are actually letters to the editor -- opinions that are just as valid, but not written by editors. Signed pieces by well-known writers, say Maureen Dowd or George Will, aren't editorials either; they're nationally syndicated columns that appear in hundreds of newspapers around the country. We also run signed essays by local contributors.

Readers wonder why newspaper editorials traditionally have no bylines. It's not that the writer is ashamed to have his or her name attached. The reason is he or she is writing for the editorial board, not him or herself -- and the opinion represents the view of the Post-Gazette as an institution and as a citizen of long standing in the community.

Who is this mysterious editorial board? Well it's no mystery at all. Its members are John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Post-Gazette; Editorial Page Editor Tom Waseleski; Deputy Editorial Page Editor Reg Henry; and associate editors Susan Mannella, Tony Norman and Dan Simpson. Together, almost like a court, they discuss and determine the positions that the newspaper will take and they write the editorials that you see daily on the page.

Ours is a collegial group in which everyone's opinion counts. But it's fair to say, as with many newspapers, that in cases of disagreement the publisher's vote trumps all others.

While no editorial writer wants his piece to be seen as equivocating or wishy-washy, he may take a different approach in writing an editorial that reflects the board consensus than if he were writing a signed column on the same subject that represents his view alone. Regardless, if a reader calls in and wants to know who wrote that editorial urging the Pennsylvania Legislature to adopt the governor's budget, we will gladly refer you to the author. It's all about having conversations -- and you're welcome to have one with him.

The editorial board decides during a daily meeting which subjects the Post-Gazette should weigh in on, trying to cover a broad sweep of local, national and international issues -- not to mention some occasionally offbeat topics that may not be a public concern at all. (Sometimes we'll even run an editorial from our sister newspaper, The Toledo Blade, but only if it conforms to our position; the Blade will occasionally return the favor.)

Although Post-Gazette editorial positions have some consistency (your views don't change overnight, so you wouldn't expect ours to, either), they are not doctrinaire. The editorial board's outlook is generally liberal on social issues and more moderate on economic topics. We endorse both Republican and Democratic candidates. We like efficiency and consolidation in government. We like the public sector to be as modern and forward-looking as a young, high-tech business. More specifically, the newspaper has championed civil rights and civil liberties, separation of church and state, reproductive freedom, protection of the environment, strong schools and government as a benign catalyst for economic development and regional vitality.

Applying this overarching philosophy to specific issues in the news -- for instance, whether to applaud or condemn the school board that expelled the student who had a toy, but look-alike, gun in his car -- is our daily task, not to mention privilege. The editorial writers meet daily with Publisher John Block to review topics worth a comment and decide what that comment should be. We also interview and endorse political candidates because one elected office-holder is the embodiment of dozens of important policy positions.

Each of our editorial writers has an area of specialty, based on professional expertise and career path, but each one of us can cover the field. That comes in handy when a colleague is away, but it also proves the notion, particularly on the editorial board, that the best journalist is a good generalist. Like other reporters, we interview sources and meet with newsmakers and experts who want to inform us about various issues. Reports, studies and deadly-dull articles that most people resist, are the kinds of things editorial writers curl up with (often at home) for fun.

While our newsroom associates are known to poke fun at editorialists who live in an "ivory tower," it's hard to make the stereotype stick at the Post-Gazette. Editorial board members may not run with the Pittsburgh police or travel with the Steelers, but they have gathered information or interviewed news subjects in places like the Middle East, Turkey, Vietnam, the State Department, New York and Harrisburg. We also pride ourselves on knowing our community, our audience and what makes Pittsburgh tick.

Readers often ask if we ever have to write editorials we disagree with. The answer is almost never. With an editorial staff of our size, someone who is part of the prevailing consensus typically writes the piece. Occasionally, a dissenting editorial writer will see the challenge in writing a powerful argument for a view he does not support, and will ask to give it a shot.

In addition to the editorial board members, two other editors work on our section each day and Rob Rogers produces an editorial cartoon six days a week.

Letters to the editor run both online and in a dedicated space on the editorial page, to the right of the editorials. Letters editor Alice Rowley works with letter writers to assemble the daily letters package in a way that not only reflects a variety of subjects but also strives to contain a variety of views, whatever the issue.

Above the letters section are the witty and sometimes wicked cartoons of Rob Rogers. Rob generates his own ideas, and his work, like that of a columnist, represents his own views. While his palette touches on issues at every level -- local, national and international -- one of his week's cartoons is the comic-strip-styled "Brewed on Grant," which zeroes in on happenings around Pittsburgh.

Opposite the editorial page is the oped page, where editor Greg Victor gathers and selects columns by famous syndicated writers and not-so-famous local commentators with special expertise on a particular issue. Greg is also the editor of Forum, the Post-Gazette's Sunday opinion section.

Alice, Rob and Greg are other opinion section staff who facilitate the conversation. Where Post-Gazette readers and online viewers decide to take the talk is entirely up to them.


 

HOW TO WRITE AN EDITORIAL

By Reg Henry
Post-Gazette Deputy Editorial Page Editor

It starts with an idea.

The idea is considered, challenged, argued and researched. Before long, it becomes a full-blown opinion - ready to be written down as an editorial.

If only editorial writing was as easy as it sounds! Before impressing you with how difficult it is, and how clever I am, and thus how much I need a raise, let me first define my terms.

Unfortunately, people often would confuse Editorial Writers with, well, editorial writers. Just so life won't be too simple, the term "editorial" is both specific and general in common usage.

I am an editorial writer in the strict journalistic sense; that is to say, I am one of those who writes the unsigned opinions that appear under the paper's masthead on the Editorial Page.

These editorials are not to be confused with the products of the lower-case editorial department, the majority of journalists on the paper who report the news and are obliged to keep their opinions out of it.

My job is to get opinions in it. These sort of editorials - the topic of our discussion today - typically tell the president what is wrong with the country, or tell the country what is wrong with the president (i.e., he won't listen to our editorials).

And where do we get these ideas about the president (or, for the matter, about anything else that becomes a subject of an editorial)?

To the Immortal Bard, all the world was a stage. To the mortal editorial writer, all the world is an editorial idea.

Ideas for editorials are everywhere. They can be found in a walk down the street, in a private conversation, at meetings, or in a play or film. They appear in the morning mail (and e-mail), in books, in magazines, on TV and especially in the newspaper.

These ideas are presented at the editorial page conference, usually held daily, Monday through Friday. We decide at this conference what editorials will be written and what they will say.

Of course, no one has to write anything that offends against individual conscience. But in practice, because we agree generally on broad principles, that situation rarely arises. Indeed. Sometimes writing an editorial opinion that is not a perfect reflection of one's views is a stimulating intellectual exercise.

As I say, it all begins with an idea. Let us suppose that in the Post-Gazette this morning there is a story about the proverbial widget factory shutting down in the face of stiff foreign competition. The threat from foreign widgets being real, there is an idea here for an editorial.

At the editorial conference, I will suggest widgets as a topic. I will give my point of view, whatever it may be, and all the others will have their say - pro or con. In the process of this often-spirited debate, the Post-Gazette's past positions will be recalled. Each editorial inherits a past, and we don't just break with past opinions without very good reason.

Eventually, we reach a consensus. Now it is time to start the real work.

The chances are that because I suggested this subject I may also know something about it. All of us stake out various areas of interest and try to gain some expertise in those fields. (Me, I'm the widget man.)

The first thing I do is to log on to the P-G library and call up past stories on the subject.

The next step will be to go to my own files. Every day position papers and fact sheets from numerous organizations arrive in the mail, and the important ones are read and filed away. Perhaps something in there will give a bit of extra background, or suggest a name to call.

Despite the caricature that is favored by the average city-room reporter, the phone is not an exotic instrument to editorial writers. You cannot know too much about a subject, and this often means calling people you may end up criticizing. Not only is this fair; it also may mean discovering something that changes the intended thrust of the editorial. When at last I believe that I thoroughly understand the subject, it is time for my personal ritual of sweating and going to the watercooler. In other words, it is time to start writing.

Editorials representing the view of the paper should be the best written pieces in the paper. They should be clear, thought-provoking, well-informed, reasonable and decent. Ah well, that's the goal anyway.

A technical problem that plagues the craft is exposition: Editorials are opinion pieces, yes, but people must be given enough facts in an editorial to know if the opinions are well-grounded. You cannot assume that people know enough about widgets; you must tell the story of widget-making even as you comment upon it. The trick is not to lose the point of the editorial among the mass of details.

The writer also must decide what the purpose of the editorial is. While editorials must not be wishy-washy, not all of them can cry out for unequivocal and dramatic change. Some editorials take note of things as a matter of record, others seek to place continuing news events, which unfolds as a series of snapshots, in an understandable context. Still others merely try to amuse.

The subject often suggests the tone, which is all-important to a successful editorial. People don't like to be lectured, they don't like to be patronized, they don't want pomposity. An emotion like anger has its place - but it can easily be overdone. If you thunder every day, you will rain on your own arguments.

So finally, it is done and ready to be printed. If you don't like the final product - sob, gasp - that's not the end of the world.

Ultimately, it's all a matter of opinion.


 

MEET THE EDITORIAL BOARD

The Post-Gazette Editorial Board determines the viewpoint of the newspaper as an institution and as a longstanding community leader in Western Pennsylvania. Its opinions are expressed in editorials, the unsigned commentaries that appear on the Web site and down the left side of the printed editorial page.

Although written by individuals, the editorials carry no bylines because they represent the consensus of the group on key public policy issues, candidates seeking election and major events of the day. The board meets daily to choose the subjects for comment and to discuss the positions the Post-Gazette should take.

The members of the editorial board are: John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief; Tom Waseleski, editorial page editor; Reg Henry, deputy editorial page editor; and associate editors Susan Mannella, Tony Norman and Dan Simpson.

Biographies of Editorial Board members


 

POST-GAZETTE ENDORSEMENT PROCESS

The Post-Gazette makes editorial endorsements in local, state and national political races, both in party primaries and in general elections. Because of the large number of political offices, the editorial board typically focuses on races that appear on the ballot in Allegheny County. The newspaper endorses only in contested races -- that is, campaigns in which two or more candidates are seeking office.

The endorsements are based on interviews with the candidates, Post-Gazette news reports and other information gathered by the editorial writer. While most endorsement editorials deal with only one race, the newspaper runs a recap that digests all of the endorsements of the past election season. This recap usually appears on the Sunday before Election Day.



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