The email landed with a thud, and it went something like this:
“Rhetoric is unlikely to lead to unity. Sad to see in this serious time.”
That email is one of many we have received in recent weeks about our Opinion pages. Of course, we’ve heard plenty of positive feedback, too. Readers have applauded our efforts to present views from both the left and the right. And they thanked us for our strong editorial voice on important issues, such as calling for reform in the wake of our investigative series on assisted living facilities and personal care homes in Georgia for seniors.
During normal times, it would be easy to shrug off these concerns about the Opinion pages. After all, one can argue, the opinions of others, particularly when they’re in conflict with each of our personal points of view, can make us angry. We believe – and still do – that there’s civic value in a robust exchange of differing ideas.
But these aren’t normal times.
Last week, Kevin Riley, our editor, shared with you the many changes we're making to the newspaper in the wake of the global pandemic. With no games to cover, our Sports section, for instance, has undergone a massive transformation. So, too, has our Friday entertainment guide, which is now called, appropriately enough, Do Guide rather than Go Guide.
This week, we began experimenting with some new ideas on the Opinion pages.
For some time now, the Opinion pages have focused on views from “both sides.” But with politics becoming more polarized, it began to feel as if we were simply digging deeper partisan trenches – and straying further from solving problems.
With that in mind, we asked ourselves two questions: Rather than publishing our regular lineup of national columnists during the weekdays, what if we devoted that space to pieces that move important conversations forward? And what if we focused on more solutions-oriented pieces during these puzzling times?
So, that’s where we’re starting.
Working closely with the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems, we’ve begun sharing some of the innovative responses unfolding across the world in the wake of this global pandemic.
Last week, for instance, we examined some of the steps taken by South Korea in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. The country quickly implemented social-distancing measures. It established hundreds of free testing sites throughout the country and has been conducting more than 10,000 tests a day. It also shared information with the public about the location of those who were infected and their movements around the country. (It did not release the names of those who tested positive.)
While South Korea doesn’t hold all the answers, it does have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rate in Asia. And maybe, just maybe, the country could provide some ideas on how to slow down the spread of the coronavirus in other parts of the world.
In the coming weeks, we’ll share more stories about how others are responding to the outbreak, and how that seems to be working.
We think we’re on to something with this solutions-oriented approach – an idea that other newspapers across the country are beginning to experiment with, as well.
As one reader wrote: “Thanks for pausing the polarizing ‘both sides’ discussions, especially during this time where we all need to come together to provide care and assistance to our neighbors. ‘Solutions’ might just be a great way to bridge our perceived differences and focus on ways to practically move forward.”
Another said: “I appreciate the effort to improve and will look forward to seeing how it works out.”
Solutions-oriented pieces represent just one facet of our new approach on these pages.
We’ll highlight stories that make you think or provide a fresh perspective, such as the piece on why Antarctica remains the only continent on the planet untouched by the outbreak. (If you think it’s because no one lives there, you’d be wrong. The continent is filled with research scientists from 38 different countries.)
And we’ll share more stories written by your neighbors, doctors, first-responders and so many others who remain on the front lines.
From time to time, we’ll also weigh in, using our editorial voice to help hold our public officials accountable, just as you’d expect us to. After all, we want to do our part to ensure that our state and local governments are doing everything within their power to keep us safe.
Rest assured, we haven't walked away from our commitment to present points of view from both the left and the right. In addition to publishing Mike Luckovich's award-winning cartoons, we'll still offer editorial cartoons from a conservative point of view. And we'll continue to publish letters to the editor, so please keep them coming.
As you might expect, not everyone has been thrilled with the changes, and that’s OK. We promise to take that feedback to heart, and we’ll keep it in mind as the pages evolve – and improve.
As one reader wrote: “Who had the idea to remove columnists from the editorial section? This is very disappointing. While there are many days I don’t agree with either side, left or right, I like to get different perspectives from outside the Atlanta market.”
While some of those columnists will still appear on Sunday, other readers shared the same sentiment.
Regardless of how you feel, we encourage you to share your feedback – and your ideas. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your thoughts will only help us improve, and we promise to keep it in mind as we move forward.
I’m certain we can all agree that so much around us has changed over the last several weeks: Zoom has replaced face-to-face meetings. A simple trip to the grocery store seems like a distant memory. Hugs and handshakes are now taboo. Your favorite restaurant may be shuttered.
Given all that has happened, we believe the changes we’ve made to the Opinion pages are the right approach at the right time.
We hope they can serve as a gathering spot, of sorts. A place to share your personal stories. A place to swap ideas and look for answers. A place that brings us together, rather than divides us.
MARK A. WALIGORE, Senior Director and Managing Editor