Opinion Columns & Blogs

Amid the noise, we start a search for solutions

John Drescher
John Drescher ehyman@newsobserver.com

Problems scream. Solutions whisper.

So says David Bornstein, a journalist who co-founded a group that pushes for solutions.

He’s right. There’s plenty of screaming out there. Here’s one example: Every second, about 6,000 tweets are launched on Twitter; that’s about 500 million tweets a day, according to internetlivestats.com.

There’s more information than ever. But most of it is focused more on problems than solutions. That’s true also of most coverage from news outlets.

Problems often are revealed through a compelling, sometimes tragic, incident. Success — lowering the drop-out rate, reducing crime, lowering teen pregnancy — often comes in slow, incremental steps that are less dramatic and more difficult to observe.

We want to address that coverage gap between the boldness of problems and the subtlety of success. We want The News & Observer’s opinion sections, in digital and print, to be the place where residents of the Triangle and North Carolina come to debate issues and propose solutions.

Both sides

Most adults in the U.S. believe that news outlets — the much-maligned media — are important to our democracy. According to a recent survey of 19,000 American adults by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, respondents say the media should inform Americans about public affairs and hold leaders accountable.

At the same time, most Americans say the media perform these roles poorly. More Americans have a negative (43 percent) than a positive (33 percent) view of the news media, while 23 percent are neutral.

So how can the media rebuild that trust? At a conference last week sponsored by The Washington Post, journalists April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks and Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard said greater respect by journalists for people on both sides of the political spectrum could help rebuild public’s trust.

New mission

Starting today, the print editorial page has a new look and our opinion report will have a new mission.

We want a broader spectrum of voices in our commentary. And we want to steer the discussion toward solutions.

To make room for more voices, we’ll publish fewer unsigned editorials that reflect the voice of The N&O’s editorial board.

We will use various tools, including video and Facebook Live, to engage with a wider swath of the community.

We’ll continue our Community Voices forums, which are led by associate editor Ned Barnett and in the last year have tackled such issues as charter schools, rising sea levels, criminal justice reform and political polarization.

These changes won’t happen overnight. After 10 years as executive editor overseeing the news staff, I began Monday as The N&O’s new (and first) opinion/solutions editor. We’re still contemplating some new approaches.

But over time, you’ll see a wider variety of voices, more side-by-side columnists with different views, and more pieces that propose specific steps toward solution.

We’ll still publish provocative commentary that fires up one side or the other. That’s part of our mission too.

But we also want The N&O to be the place where people in the Triangle and North Carolina come to constructively debate and propose ideas and solutions.

Drescher, opinion/solutions editor, is at jdrescher@newsobserver.com; 919.829.4515; @john_drescher.