Michael Bennett: In our opinion

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We ran an editorial March 22 suggesting that, based on the facts, the Niles Community Schools teachers needed to make contract concessions to avoid the long-term damage done that would occur should the district go into a deficit. Four irate readers canceled their subscriptions.

It is our belief that having an opinion on a difficult issue is a responsibility of a solid community newspaper.

Some readers mistook the editorial for a story and accused us of being biased. For the record, an editorial on an opinion page is supposed to be biased. Whether it is a letter to the editor, a guest columnist or an editorial, the opinion page is a place for a community discussion. We encourage it.  We welcome, and whenever possible publish, differing opinions from readers. All we ask is that those opinions keep to a civil and respectful tone.

The opinion page is the only page in our newspaper where you should ever see bias. When we write our news stories we believe in what Joe Friday from “Dragnet” used to say: “Just the facts, ma’am.” We will do everything in our power to get the story correct without implying any bias. Many times we work hard to get another side of the story and, surprisingly, sometimes even key officials paid with our tax money refuse to provide information. In those cases we have to go with the information we have. If an error in fact is brought to our attention we will just as prominently make a correction.

I received a telephone call this morning from a Niles teacher questioning the accuracy of our headline last week: “Niles former superintendent: Avoid deficit.” After checking it out, she is correct. James Hawkins is a retired superintendent of the Ypsilanti school district and also was Supt. Richard Weigel’s former boss. We will make a correction today in the Star.

Headlines are often composed by someone other than the reporter who wrote the story. An editor will read the story and write a headline that captures the concept of the story. Although we have an awesome news team, we must move quickly and we can make mistakes. We will always own up to our mistakes.

We strive to get it right the first time. If we don’t, let us know and we will make it right.

And now for something totally different.

We had a great discussion March 22 with our Dowagiac reader advisory group. We presented our new format and received plenty of great story ideas. Our thanks to all those were in attendance. This went over so well that we will plan on meeting at least quarterly. Katie Rohman and I look forward to our Niles advisory group tonight.

As I do most Friday evenings, I had a lively discussion with my friends at the Wood Fire. My neighbor David, who works at Mennel Milling, told me that we should write more about local industries. His belief was that even long-time residents were not aware of what was produced in the area. I tested the theory on a worldly looking gentleman at the bar.

“Did you know they mill flour in Dowagiac?” I asked.

“Really? Where?” was his response. He is a 35-year resident.

Next test was to post the question on our Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/DowagiacNews).

What do you think of a “Made in Dowagiac” series? We had 44 “likes” and 17 mostly favorable comments. John Eby is preparing the story ideas. Look for them soon.