For more than two decades, the 700-word slot on Page 3 of our print paper was reserved for the musings of the Pleasanton Weekly's editor. As the paper turns the page on another year after celebrating its 21st anniversary this week, now is the right time to return to that tradition.
Well, part-time anyway.
This marks the debut of my new "What a Week" column, a spot for me to reflect biweekly on goings-on in the Tri-Valley with a tinge of opinion, even more subjectivity, and most importantly of all, perspective.
I'll be sharing this space with our Tri-Valley Life editor Dolores Fox Ciardelli and her popular Valley Views column. Fans (and even the curious detractor) of freelancer Tim Hunt can continue to read his Tim Talk blog twice a week on our website, and we plan to feature him as a guest opinion author on our Opinion page as interesting local topics in his wheelhouse arise.
Honestly, I had been a bit hesitant to develop a print column since taking the reins as editor four years ago, for several reasons.
I had big enough shoes to fill, both publicly and internally, succeeding Jeb Bing ("Mr. Pleasanton" himself); on top of that, I'd have to try to match the mastery of his Around Pleasanton column? But as Jeb reminded me on more than one occasion in retirement, Page 3 really should belong to the editor.
I actually wrote a regular column before I came to the Weekly.
Mandy Feder-Sawyer, my managing editor at the Lake County Record-Bee, threw new reporters into the proverbial fire in more ways than one -- including, to my chagrin, requiring us to pen a weekly column among our hectic reporting duties.
There I was, all of 22, fresh out of American University still clinging to journalism school ethics theory as gospel, tasked with creating an opinion column in a community I wasn't all that familiar with. Though just 100 miles away from Benicia, Lakeport was a far cry from my Bay Area hometown.
So I wrote about sports. Those Just Sayin' columns were a lot of fun, but I realize now that really wasn't the assignment. I didn't take full advantage.
Part of my hesitance recently -- just like it was back then -- also had to do with the style of writing. I come from a hard news background: crime stories, government meetings, court cases, profile interviews. That's my bread and butter, as you've seen here over the years.
A community column has never seemed a comfortable genre.
Then, as a hard-line reporter at heart, there was confronting the whole "opinion" taboo.
As a young buck (says the 32-year-old), I used to take the firm stance that journalists shouldn't have opinions. I now understand that's probably unproductive, and frankly infeasible.
We need to develop our own personal perspectives to evolve as people, and to help American society and humanity evolve. On the professional side, as journalists it's important to acknowledge any internal biases (conscious and subconscious) and how that might impact your reporting. And correct the course, as needed.
As I've grown as an editor, I've learned that objective isn't necessarily the same as unopinionated. More like uninfluenced. The treatment recommendation from your doctor is their objective medical opinion. A juror decides guilt or innocence, in their view, based on the facts of a case. Some may even argue elected officials are tasked with making objective decisions.
Now for a journalist, opinions are going to exist, and that's OK. They can't, however, be pervasive in your news coverage.
What matters in the journalistic endeavor is that the finished news product is objective. In our case, the reporting process and final article are free of bias, grounded in fact and present relevant perspective (oh, engaging prose and imagery are vital as well).
The characteristics are the same with a column: facts, fairness, perspective. Except that it clearly centers on the author's opinion; although, I expect what you'll see from me will be more subjective story-telling about Tri-Valley topics, rather than hard opinion.
And with that, I finally embrace Page 3.
These are the times to try new things in life, after all -- just look at my locks at the top of the page; try as my wife might to convince me before, you think I'd ever actually considered growing out my hair for a year before this pandemic? We should find inspiration, motivation and a little fun anywhere we can.
One down; hopefully hundreds to go. What a Week.
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.