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Editorialist
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Jim Wooten

      . . . editorial page editor, „The Atlanta Journal.š Mr. Wooten is one of America‚s most highly respected editorial writers. He is an award-winning veteran reporter who has been editorial page editor of „The Atlanta Journalšsince 1992. He writes often about politics and government and won a national editorial writing award for commentary about the state retirement system. He lives in metropolitan Atlanta.

Excerpts3:43 secs

      People are not dumb about the news, says „Atlanta Journalš Editorial Page Editor, Jim Wooten. Not dumb or random or chaotic. People maximize the time they have available, become as well informed as they feel they need to be, and decide what‚s going to enhance their quality of life.

      As information explodes around us and the news business eyes a challenging future, Jim Wooten sees a special place for newspapers. Yes, most people want „factsš from newspapers, but with today‚s content proliferation, including the Internet, people no longer have to rely on „newsš for information. He thinks people can and should turn to editorial pages when they don‚t have the time to become knowledgeable about a particular case.

      This means editorial page editors and writers have a special role (in addition to being honest, truthful and providing a reliable context,) Mr. Wooten says. And it requires trust, which is why Mr. Wooten still uses the skills and instincts he‚s nurtured over decades as a reporter, developing his own sources, personally „workingš important stories. (He urges us to be equally demanding of whatever sources we turn to for our information, particularly the Internet.)

      Jim Wooten wants people to get comfortable with how he thinks and to feel free to disagree with him. His job, he believes, is to develop a relationship with editorial page readers, then help them refine their own views. That means those readers will want to know what Jim Wooten thinks -- a bold task he takes on three times a week in front of the world. In effect, every editorial declares, „This is what I believe, this is why I believe it, this is what my values are and this is the quality of my research.š So he puts a lot of time and thought and analysis and effort into his opinions. And invites people‚s responses.

      Having lost their monopoly on facts, Mr. Wooten is convinced newspapers can now offer vision and leadership. Our communities are fragmented, he observes. Newspapers, he says, are uniquely positioned: to involve all of the diverse segments of a community; to draw them into discussion; to allow people to reach a consensus that represents who the community is and where it should be going; to help people know where they live; to reflect a city or region‚s history and values. Mr. Wooten thinks newspapers are the one institution broad-based and powerful enough to help re-capture a lost sense of community.

      That‚s the role of editorial pages in re-forming that sense? They provide a common place where people can feel connected, can come together and talk about what they value, about how we are going to solve our problems, can engage without thinking they‚re going to be put down or belittled or ridiculed for their ideas.

      Democracy or disintegration? Sounds like something for the editorial page.

Conversation 1

Jim Wooten explains how editorial boards work for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Mr. Wooten generalizes about people he has known in the newspaper business and explains why they might also have chosen to be missionaries or preachers.


Conversation 2

Mr. Wooten acknowledges a public perception that news people have a bias. He discusses how the newspaper industry is addressing this concern, with examples. He cites surveys of readers and people inside news organizations and compares the perceptions of the two groups. Mr. Wooten recalls how things worked when he was at U.S. News and World Report. He compares „who what when and wherešwith a biased approach. He defines editorial opinion and contrasts it to reporting. He traces how newspapers have changed in the past 60 years, bringing us to the Internet and the breakup of news monopolies.


Conversation 3

The Internet has changed the newspaper business and our larger communities in a number of ways, Mr. Wooten contends. He amplifies, describing losses to our communities and how newspapers can help re-form those communities. Mr. Wooten describes the transition from reporter to columnist or editorial writer. He explains why he often still „worksš stories himself. He considers the importance of editors, both in newspapers and on the Internet. The effects of speed and rumors on the Internet are discussed. Mr. Wooten explains why Internet users should be concerned about their sources.


Conversation 4

Comparing historical newspapers with today‚s, Mr. Wooten describes what the public does and will demand. He says people want „factsš in their news but have quite different expectations for editorial pages.  He gives examples.  Mr. Wooten considers how geography has affected the newspaper business. He pinpoints how a diminished sense of connection negatively impacts politics, offering newspapers‚ potential role in turning that phenomenon around. He notes a declining thoroughness in public life and suggests a possible reason. He applies that idea to electoral politics and special interest groups.  Leaders and leadership are evolving, he contends and says more.


Conversation 5

The subject of leadership continues, as Mr. Wooten describes why it is a requirement for the editor of an editorial page to be willing to be courageous and bold, not bowing to the status quo. He makes a strong case for the importance of newspapers in identifying problems that need to be addressed and explains why they are in a particularly good position to do so, with examples. Political corruption is discussed. Mr. Wooten considers how the economics of the newspaper business, and other media, do and do not affect the news reported. He worries about potential problems posed by the blending of communications sources, with examples.  He talks about news-as-entertainment, complimenting the general public‚s ability to maximize the time they have available for being informed.


Conversation 6

Mr. Wooten considers how people‚s interest in national and local politics might increase with an end to prosperity or a heightened sense of international danger. He agrees that the media and the entertainment industry have contributed to current popular disaffection.  He suggests that too much familiarity with officeholders is probably not good. He tells us how to disagree with him and invites us to feel free to do so. He explains why he is a fan of e-mail.


Acknowledgements

We enjoyed gathering with invited guests for this conversation with Jim Wooten, which took place at The Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta. Once again, we thank all the individuals, working together, who make The Commerce Club‚s great service look easy.

Related Links:
You can read Jim Wooten's editorials at The Atlanta Journal. His e-mail address is jwooten@ajc.com


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