A good opinion section builds community. It’s an argument that my “What Works in Community News” partner, Ellen Clegg, makes over and over. As editorial page editor of The Boston Globe, she eliminated the last vestiges of nationally syndicated columnists and pushed the pages toward mostly local content. That has continued under her successors at the Globe, including the current opinion editor, James Dao.

Now Gretchen A. Peck of Editor & Publisher has checked in with three top journalists who are working for their papers’ opinion sections — Julieta Chiquillo, deputy editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News; Peter St. Onge, editorial page editor at three North Carolina papers, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Herald-Sun of Durham, as well as opinion editor at McClatchy; and Lorraine Forte, opinion editor at the Chicago Sun-Times.

They all make similar points: local opinion journalism based on rigorous reporting is a crucial part of a local or regional newspaper’s mission. “I think it’s part of what gives the newspaper a personality and creates a sense of community,” Forte told Peck. “Otherwise, you’re just a collection of news stories.”

Indeed, the Sun-Times restored political endorsements about 10 years ago after briefly abolishing them. Many chain-owned dailies have gotten rid of endorsements because they’re a lot of work and because the owners don’t want to alienate any of their readers. There’s an additional problem as well: the new generation of nonprofit local news outlets can’t endorse without losing their tax-exempt status. Yet in many cases readers are looking for guidance — perhaps not on the big races, but certainly on more obscure offices like city council, school committee or select board.

Several years ago, Joshua Darr and his colleagues studied what happened when a Gannett daily, the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, eliminated national opinion content and replace it with local opinion for one month. Darr, who’s now at Syracuse University, and his colleagues found a small but measurable decline in partisan polarization after that month, as Ellen wrote at the time. Darr later talked about his findings on our podcast.

As someone who worked full-time in opinion journalism for many years at The Boston Phoenix, The Guardian and GBH News, I strongly believe that fair-minded point-of-view writing needs to be part of any news organization’s mission — and that it’s at least as important at the local level as it is on national issues.

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