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Opening Arguments

Turf's up

Back in July, I wrote about turf, letters to the editor purporting to be original thought on political matters but in reality group-think that is cut and pasted from a form letter. Now there's apparently an editorial version of turf making the rounds, with editors offering seemingly original editorials that are, in fact, cut and pasted from an editorial in one newspaper in a group into the editorial spaces of other newspapers in the group. I got two calls about it -- one from Illinois and one from South Bend -- from people who had seen one of the editorials, from the Lima (Ohio) News, published on our Web site as part of the package of syndicated material we get off the wire. (Masson's blog also noted it.) It turns out that identical (or nearly so) editorials were run in a lot of other papers owned by the same company that owns the Lima one, Freedom Communications.

This sort of thing used to go quite a lot more frequently, at least in the small chains of mostly small newspapers I was familiar with. An "editorial director" or someone with a similar title would write a bunch of canned editorials that would be distributed to all the papers in the chain. Since editorials have traditionally been the unsigned position of the newspaper, who was to know where they actually came from? These days, with everybody's offerings going out to a worldwide audience on the Internet, I'm surprised anybody is still trying to get away with it.

The objection to such canned editorials is the same objection to turf letters: An impression is attempted to be created that there is a groundswell of simlilar opinion arising spontaneously in lots of different parts of the country. Such practices attempt to shape debate in a dishonest way.

Posted in: Current Affairs