As I paged through my daily newspaper this past week, I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the editorial page of the Cecil Whig. On a typical morning, coffee cub in hand, I immediately skip over the non-local content, arriving quickly on the editorial page. Scanning that section, I’ll also pass over the wire and syndicated material, but read the letters to the editor before moving on. When there’s the occasional local editorial, especially when it has substance, I’ll read that too. That’s why twice this week I was pleased to see local political columns by the Whig’s editor, Terry Peddicord.
When I saw that byline, I put my coffee down and started reading those county pieces about politicians being much like foxes and a suggestion that the commissioners televise board meetings. For decades, whenever Editor Peddicord wrote an opinion article, I’ve read it carefully. Sometimes I would disagree with his op/ed pieces, but they were always based on a profound understanding and knowledge of the complex political relationships and interactions on his beat, Cecil County. They were always well crafted too.
In this era when a deeper understanding and comprehension of the more intricate matters in a market doesn’t exist in many newsrooms, it does at the Whig. Peddicord brings a focused, insightful understanding of the maneuverings, motives, and goings-on in the area government board rooms, as well as in political party circles. Based on decades of acquired institutional knowledge and keen observation of a professional journalist, he presents strong arguments and he’s never shy about disagreeing with the political leadership.
His work often reminded me of another newspaperman, whose work I have studied and admired, Bill Frank, of the Wilmington News Journal. Frank, covering the Delaware beat, had a zeal and energy as a reporter and columnist. The work of these two pros has similar qualities, in my opinion.
I still recall many of the columns and editorials Peddicord has done over about a third-of-a-century in Cecil. That’s a long time but just think of the on-the-street knowledge that comes from covering the beat and editing a daily paper, back into the 1970s. Many of those pieces that I so valued as a subscriber greatly increased my understanding of the front news matter, while also often taking brave positions that challenged those in leadership positions or the conventional wisdom of important politicians. As I write this as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I readily recall many of those fine pieces that created a richer understanding and more insightful record of happenings for me. I’ve got to imagine that he got a lot of noise over some of those pieces since for a small town daily some of them were plucky installments that challenged popular positions or popular politicians.
Some years back, I’d see Peddicord’s pieces in the paper regularly. But I’m sure with dwindling resources and smaller staffs to accomplish core tasks, as well as the wishes of executives not to shake things up, the time and space for that type of work has diminished. (I suspect the Whig might have fewer reporters producing its daily editions now than it did when it was a weekly paper.)
I should also note that the Whig has other brilliant reporters and they know their way around the county too. Whatever the case, it’s the role of editors and reporters to be a little skeptical (just a little) and to be watchdogs (just a little) for the public good. When they do that, it’s good for the publishing enterprise so the corporations should get out-of-the-way and let them write. They’ll know what to do. If I were a corporate owner of a media group, that’s exactly the type of value proposition I’d create for my subscribers and advertisers.
It’s all about the content. This is a time when virtually all newspapers face declining readership, pressure from corporate owners for larger profits, and competition for advertising dollars from the Internet, cable broadcasters and a cluster of other sources. And think of what happens as the younger generation grows up without even becoming oriented to print. It’s not time to cut corners on the quality of the product in search of short fixes for improving the bottom line for that’s been going on across the nation way too long. It has helped to hasten the current market condition.
When the competition gets tough, it’s time to invest more in your content so there is a value proposition for shareholders and stakeholders. That’s the nuts and bolts of it and that’s what I say.