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Our gratitude goes to all of the readers who responded to the recent survey about the Ketchikan Daily News’ Opinion section.
More than 80 of you took the time to complete the 10-question survey, and many respondents made an extra effort to add comments.
Thank you. We’d hoped the responses would provide insight as we consider potential changes to the Opinion pages. After seeing the replies — in all their variety — we can say without doubt that the surveys and comments have been helpful indeed.
You’re probably curious as to the survey results. We’ll describe those in a moment, but first, a quick word about the existing Opinion page.
The Daily News publishes one full Opinion page five days per week, and a two-page Opinion section in the Weekend Edition.
In addition to a local editorial, the Opinion page includes letters to the editor and Point of View columns submitted by mostly local and Alaska writers. There are syndicated columns by national writers such as George Will, Ben Shapiro, Patrick Buchanan, Marc Thiessen, Eugene Robinson, Jeff Jacoby and Catherine Rampell; as well as columns by other nationally distributed writers. Editorial cartoons appear at the top of the page; and the “Today in History” roundup that’s produced by The Associated Press appears at the bottom.
The blend of national contributors has evolved over time to continue providing a variety of viewpoints as befitting a general-interest newspaper.
These national contributors tend to focus on national politics. And, because one party has controlled both the presidency and Congress during the past two years, these writers and cartoonists have focused mostly on President Donald Trump and the GOP. Before that, they focused on President Barack Obama, whose Democratic party held Congress early in his presidency before becoming the minority in both chambers by 2015. The spotlight doesn’t stray often from those who hold power.
The Ketchikan Daily News’ editorials typically focus on issues that affect the Ketchikan area in some way. Letter and Point of View writers address a wide range of topics, most of which reflect a local or statewide topic.
Everybody has opinions, and readers of the Ketchikan Daily News are no exception. One of the first questions on the KDN survey asked how the survey takers viewed their own general political perspective.
More than 30 percent of respondents identified as middle-of-the-road politically. Twenty-five percent checked conservative and nine percent were staunch conservative. Fifteen percent said they leaned liberal, five percent said liberal, and another five percent checked staunch liberal.
Most respondents are regular readers of the Opinion sections. A full 73 percent said they read the Opinion pages every time they read the newspaper. Another 18 percent said they read it sometimes. Encouragingly enough, 86 percent of the respondents said they read opinions that have views that differ from their own.
What did they think of the current Opinion section? Forty-five percent of respondents chose positive or really positive, while another 34 percent chose the “It is alright” option. Twenty-one percent of respondents had a negative or really negative overall impression of the section.
As for balance, fifty percent viewed the selection of columnists in the Opinion section as balanced. Twenty-three percent viewed the current mix as conservative or very conservative; 26 percent saw the blend as liberal or very liberal.
A large majority of survey takers — 78 percent — said they like having political cartoons in the Opinion section. “Today in History” fared less well, with 58 percent of respondents saying they read the feature very often (33 percent) or occasionally (25 percent).
Survey takers were generally upbeat in their assessment of the overall quality of the Opinion section, giving it an average of 7.09 stars out of 10. Twenty-seven percent of respondents gave eight stars (proportionally the largest number), while 24 percent gave five or fewer stars.
Asked about their prefered focus in an Opinion section, 90 percent prefered a mix of local and national pieces. If the Daily News went with only local- and state-produced opinion pieces, 67 percent of respondents prefered topics that also included national issues with the state and local.
This wasn’t a scientific survey by any stretch. Still, we were heartened that the numbers appeared to indicate bell curves showing a general correlation between readers’ viewpoints and Opinion page content. Not everybody was 100 percent satisfied, but just about everybody indicated something of interest, if not value.
We also appreciated the comments. Short or long, the respondents clearly conveyed what they like and don’t like about the Opinion section. And clearly, a wide spectrum of opinion exists.
Wrote one respondent: “As wood burner, the ‘Opinion' page, along with the daily total of ‘Washington Post (tripe), fills the requirement of daily fire starter, other than that, I would have to own a bird cage.”
Another wrote just: “Dump Trump.”
The president factored in a number of comments.
For example, “Disgusting the way Trump is trashed every day by these people. Had enough of it.” And, “All these opinions from troublemakers are very offensive — Please stop!”
Political factions were noted, as well.
“I feel the left-side remarks are splitting up our country, since starting my voting career over 50 years ago, I have never disliked Democrats more!” wrote one respondent. Wrote another, “Please keep the Opinion page as it is. Don’t change to all conservative to please the far right.”
Yet another spoke to a perceived editorial bias by the Daily News: “Your editorial conservative bent is very obvious.”
A number of comments underscored what they appreciated about the newspaper and the Opinion page, with some making suggestions for things they’d like to see. One writer suggested reprinting the columns written by the Daily News’ former publisher, the late Lew Williams Jr., for example.
A number of writers were gracious in their words of appreciation for the newspaper and Opinion section
“I appreciate the quality of your paper for 52 years now,” wrote one respondent. “Lately your challenges on keeping a balanced news and opinion product for a very cross-section community and folks who speak out, you face a tremendous pressure.”
Another wrote: “I feel the content presented in your Op/Ed Editorial pages to be well-balanced, respecting diverse political and cultural views, which is exactly what an informed electorate needs in this current toxic political atmosphere.”
And this: “I hope you continue to keep the opinion page and offer a balance/variety of views. It challenges people’s views — if they care to read. Keep challenging all of our views. Hopefully some of us will do research and find what is the truth. Sadly few do, but some will. Like me.”
If a significant percentage of readers of the Daily News’ Opinion section hold a similar view, we believe the section is on the right track. Based on the overall survey, a wholesale makeover isn’t called for, nor is one in the works.
We will be keeping the suggestions in mind as we move ahead. And, with our deepest appreciation to everyone who participated in the survey, we’ll conclude with one suggestion — or reminder.
The Daily News’ Opinion page is a community space. The more thoughtful comment by local writers in letter-to-the-editor and Point-of-View form that appears in the section, the better it can be. That’s our opinion, and we'd like to highlight the ongoing invitation for Ketchikan writers to make good use of the opportunity.