Hiott, Doolittle: More changes coming to Statesman Viewpoints

It’s no secret that the newspaper business is in a state of transition. Our readers are changing — and so are their expectations about what they read in our editorial pages and how they consume it.

As part of that continuing evolution, we are making some additional changes to the print Viewpoints and Balanced Views sections. You may have already noticed that we have been running more signed columns from our staff in the place of traditional editorials. The reader response to that change is positive.

Starting this week, we will publish unsigned — or “institutional” — editorials once a week on Sundays. These will focus on the most pressing issues in our community and highlight the best of our combination of local reporting and commentary.

We will keep George Will and Leonard Pitts as our Balanced Views columnists on Sunday, but discontinue that feature for the rest of the week as we go down to one locally focused page and cede some space to news.

The Viewpoints pages will be redesigned to accommodate a mix of our best bylined staff commentary and community submissions. We will also move the editorial cartoon to the Viewpoints page. We will, of course, continue running letters to the editor in print – a reader favorite.

Our online report will continue to expand, featuring more of our writer’s perspectives on the Viewpoints blog, but also reader-generated commentary and the best national and statewide columns on the issues you care about.

We originally started Balanced Views as a way to showcase the breadth of the national discussion on current events. While we are still committed to including a variety of viewpoints on our editorial pages, the inevitable nuances of political discourse have become even harder to convey in the format “From the Right” and “From the Left.” We will also discontinue our practice of reprinting Facebook comments in The Water Cooler, except on Sunday.

As a business, we are always looking for how to best use our resources — and readers have told us again and again through surveys, focus groups and other feedback that the work they appreciate the most from us in print is unique and local.

The Austin community is civically engaged and passionate about the issues that affect it. Community members also increasingly have a plethora of sources to fill their appetite for the national debates. So, to that end, we intend to devote the space we have to our writers’ expertise and our community’s voices.

Perhaps the most significant philosophical change as we adjust resources is that we will no longer endorse political candidates, although we will weigh in as necessary on ballot measures and other issues. The sheer number of candidates in a metropolitan area this size and the number of editorial writers we have makes it challenging to add to the contours of the electoral debate. In the last city council cycle, our board met with more than 120 political candidates. In the most recent primary season, we held more than two dozen meetings and we declined to endorse in a number of statewide and county races in our readership area. We also have been increasingly forced to not endorse in races where candidates have chosen to skip the interview process altogether.

This is perhaps the most difficult part of this evolution. We still believe in the fundamental role of the daily newspaper in knitting together the community and shedding light into the dark corners of the political process.

Without the endorsements, we will continue to look for new ways to engage the community, inform voters and hold policymakers accountable. That is the heart of what we do, and we look forward to continuing to do that in new ways, both in print and online.

Contact Debbie Hiott at dhiott@statesman.com. Contact Tara Trower Doolittle at tdoolittle@statesman.com

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