Newspaper dispensers line a street in Encinitas. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

In a fascinating Sunday screed, Voice of San Diego managing editor Sara Libby took the Union-Tribune Editorial Board to task for failing to be more assertive in its editorials.

She lamented the “demise of the U-T’s editorial pages.” She expressed the view that the editorial board of a newspaper exists to make specific recommendations about things like who we should vote for and how problems should be solved but stated the editorial board “often declines to articulate a preference for any type of policy, issue or candidate.” And she said the editorial board is failing in that regard.

This was an odd case of new media telling old media that it ought to behave more like old media.

Like Libby, I received my college degree in journalism. In my case, it was long before the erosion of influence of traditional media, like the evening news and the daily printed paper. As does Libby, I recognize and respect the differentiation between news and opinion that newspapers are expected to maintain. I believe the U-T does a fairly good job of ensuring that its news is fact-based, and the opinion pages stand alone.

VOSD takes a different approach. It doesn’t offer an editorial page. It rejects the wall that has traditionally existed between news and opinion by allowing its reporters to include their opinions and “take a stand” when they feel they are justified.

While there are clearly instances where the U-T editorial board has taken strong stands, Libby may be missing the board’s underlying strategy in the editorials that are less directive. Much has been written about the increasing tribalism of Americans, driven, in part, by the internet and an atomized world of media of all forms. More than ever, it seems, people want to hear voices they agree with and tend to ignore those they don’t. That stifles dialog and erodes a democratic system founded on compromise. Should old media ignore this?

Through the many, many years that the U-T expressed a stronger voice in its editorials, it rarely changed my mind. Rather, the views expressed were akin to a political party explaining why its point of view is right.

If the U-T editors take a specific stand on a polarizing issue, such as gun control, it is likely to be embraced by those with the same point of view and rejected by those with the opposing point of view. Are minds changed by a newspaper’s editors telling them what to do? Maybe some. On the other hand, defining the broad outlines of an issue and suggesting where more needs to be done may be meaningfully considered by those who would otherwise insist nothing should be done. It is, in a sense, quiet diplomacy.

This contretemps of one news source dissing another highlights the scramble by all news media to hold on to readers in an expanding world of information. As someone whose friends have wide-ranging political views, I know that challenging their core beliefs is mostly ineffective, but we can often discuss and even agree on many of the underlying issues.

That sort of discussion, rather than trying to impose one’s views on others, is how change comes to the opinions of thoughtful people. And that, I think, is a strategy for how old media can evolve to remain relevant.

B. Chris Brewster, a San Diego resident, is president of the Americas region of the International Life Saving Federation and editor of American Lifeguard Magazine.

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