Kevin Moran: Why publish? Here's why.
PITTSFIELD >> Steven Nikitas' June 13 opinion column headlined, "Here's the solution for black America," created an uproar for its commentary on conservatives' and Republicans' "sure-fire solutions for black America."
Much of that anger has been directed at The Eagle for publishing the column. Though we believe the anger is misdirected, we understand the furor over Mr. Nikitas' column and also why we'd take heat for publishing it.
Since the vast majority of criticism has taken place on the Internet, let's first clear up several assertions making the rounds on Facebook:
– Steven Nikitas is not an Eagle staff member; he is not employed by us.
– Mr. Nikitas is one of several people who, as members of the Berkshire County Republican Association, contribute columns every other week titled "Right from the Berkshires" on the Opinion Page of The Eagle. But we haven't made that link consistently clear to readers, which undoubtedly fueled confusion; going forth, we will in the tagline of the column.
– About a year ago, the BCRA asked we allow their local conservative voices into The Eagle's pages to provide a balance of political viewpoints. We obliged.
– We do not pay any of the writers from the Berkshire County Republican Association for their opinion columns.
– An opinion column is not a "news article." It's the author's subjective point of view. They own their opinion.
– Mr. Nikitas' column was first published in print and online on Saturday, June 13.
– A number of people have wondered in online comments whether publishing such a controversial opinion was a ploy to sell newspapers. To the contrary, we fully recognize the inherent risk in publishing controversial opinions and the adverse effect that could have on sales.
No one here at The Eagle will defend Mr. Nikitas' position and point of view as expressed in his column through the Berkshire County Republican Association.
For the record, we disagree with it. Completely. This stance should come as no surprise to our readers who know The Eagle's editorial stances on our newspaper's Opinion Page to be among the most progressive in the country — a vanguard of social and civil rights that's consistently at the forefront of pushing this nation toward the changes it needs to make to achieve justice and equality for all.
So while you'll not hear me agree with Mr. Nikitas' views one bit, I will defend the decision to publish it.
And here's why.
The Eagle publishes a variety of opinions — whether they be expressed in columns, letters to the editor, editorial cartoons, etc. — on the Opinion Pages. The role of a community newspaper's Opinion Page is that of a town square: It's a free-flowing forum of opinions and debate and praise and criticism. Readers will like, dislike, agree, disagree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree — the whole gamut — with all of these opinions.
Publishing an opinion column by any individual whose position is controversial and may run contrary to somebody or most everyone's is not easy. The tough decision is to publish. It's a fine line.
So why then publish it?
Here's why: Views and opinions — whether they be considered by some, most or all people to be ignorant or brilliant or somewhere in between — tell us a lot about the community in which we live, work, go to school, vote, debate, worship, pay taxes, make choices and decisions, etc.
Such knowledge can spark a community discussion or debate and enact change, but it should never be held a secret. Some in our community have observed that publishing a controversial opinion does the community a public service. Therefore, we ought not sweep it under the rug. As we say in the First Amendment business, sunlight can be a great disinfectant.
When a viewpoint is espoused by a person or organization in a position of power or authority or who's representing a doctrine, it can be a revelation — for better or for worse — to the rest of us. It can also give the community a glimpse into that person or organization or political party's sphere of reference, the spot from which they base their decisions and make their choices — decisions and choices that have the potential to affect the rest of us.
The risk every resolute and earnest opinion columnist takes is to be held accountable for their words and opinions. Their views can win praise or earn condemnation from the rest of us. Their views reflect upon the group they represent.
In this particular case, in my opinion, a writer for the Berkshire County wing of a national political party making its case for "sure-fire solutions for black America" is indeed a revelation — of apocalyptic proportions — if this is their prescription to heal the serious racial issues that confront the United States.
As a result of its publication, the BCRA and the candidates this group supports now and in the future — especially the local and state ones — will have no choice but to be held accountable for it.
Yes, on the Opinion Page, we all get a good understanding of what just about everyone is thinking.
Hopefully, Mr. Nikitas and the Berkshire County Republican Association will too.
Kevin Moran is the editor of The Berkshire Eagle.
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