Here at Grunion Central, we face a bit of a dilemma — one I feel compelled to explain every other year or so.
It's all about facts versus opinions. It's important that you, gentle reader, understand when something in the Grunion is my or others' opinion, and when it is news.
Let's start with the easy part. This page is full of opinion columns. There also are columns in other parts of the paper — music, theater and visual arts — that are primarily opinion.
It is assumed these opinions are based in fact, but the columns are about interpretation and judgments.
Then there's Page 3A, where you can find letters to the editor — those are readers' opinions. Grunion readers are passionate, and the letters often continue on other pages, but they remain opinions. I try to point out and/or correct blatant errors of fact, but not every letter can be thoroughly vetted.
Then there is the rest of the paper. On the front page, and on most of the inside pages, of every Grunion, we strive to present you with the most balanced reporting possible about issues that matter to you. That ranges from the government and political stuff you (we) have been inundated with in recent weeks, as well as stories about next week's big festival.
As a weekly with a small staff, I face a particularly difficult situation to explain. I write many of those news articles. And I write these columns.
I do my very best to separate the two, writing as a reporter covering all sides of an issue on the news pages, and attempting to offer insight — or at least illicit a smile — with this and the In Closed Session column here.
I've been doing this for more than three decades now. I faced the same situation in Colorado when I ran a couple of small mountain weeklies before moving on to daily newspapers.
I believe I've managed to keep reporting and opinion writing clearly separate over the years, and think most readers understand the difference. But occasionally there's a story that needs some explaining.
That appears to be the case with the recent stories about a "homeless patrol" and march in Belmont Shore. I broke the story in the Oct. 25 edition; there has been lots of coverage (including a second story and a column from Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price in the Nov. 1 Grunion). The march itself took place Friday, Nov. 2, complete with counter protestors.
Again, I was reporting. Unfortunately, I found out about the group literally hours before the Oct. 25 edition went to press, and despite attempts to get comments from Price and the city, it ended up being only a story about the movement, talking about why the group felt it was necessary to march. Certainly not the most balanced story I've done, and a second story on Nov. 1 better explained the city's side of the homeless issue.
Still, I was surprised by claims on social media that I, or the Grunion, in some way endorsed the march. The chatter continues on social media to this day.
I also got a letter from a longtime reader. I'll protect her identity, but she said, in part, "Although I acknowledge the homeless situation in Long Beach is growing, and troubling, I find your seeming endorsement of this small group of residents' ‘solution’ even more troubling."
We had a bit of an email discussion, and it appears at least part of her perception comes from us writing the story at all. Giving them front page prominence somehow translated to an endorsement. I acknowledge that the one-sided nature of the first story had something to do with it as well.
But the story was the farthest thing from an endorsement; it was a story to let the readers know what was happening. If I am going to endorse something, I'll confine it to these columns. Promise.
I truly appreciate the reader who wrote the letter and the email conversation that followed — I think I understand her concern, and I hope she understands my intention.
Thank you, and thank you for reading. It's why we do this.