Dave Obee: Comment pages will change next week

VKA-obee-520501.jpgChanges are coming to the Comment pages in the Times Colonist, starting next week.

Don’t worry, though — we are still committed to giving a voice to our readers, and to offering analysis and context about news events, as we have for almost 160 years.

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Our plan is to move some Comment space from the daily newspaper into the Sunday Islander section, which will have the widest range of columns you will find in any newspaper in Canada.

To make that happen, we will reduce the daily Comment section to one page. It will feature Les Leyne’s column, editorials and letters from readers.

In Islander, starting next week, you will find a selection of thoughts from your favourite columnists, including Lawrie McFarlane, Monique Keiran, Geoff Johnson and Charla Huber.

Two thoughts are driving these changes.

First, reducing the weekday Comment section will free more space for news in the first section. The page will not be replaced with advertising; our commitment is to increase the room for news stories and photographs.

Second, the Sunday Islander is meant to be a section that is read over two days. It does not have breaking news, and it gives us a chance to present more in-depth reading with a focus on Vancouver Island. More local commentary will make that section even stronger.

I edited the Comment pages for 12 years, and I know that some readers might quibble with the decision to drop a daily page. I will admit that it took me a while to accept that it was the best decision, and not only because of the added space for news.

I am a firm believer in the notion that less is more. The best way to improve the quality of any collection — books, records, stamps, whatever — is to reduce its size.

The quality of the daily Comment section will rise as a result of this change.

The same thinking applies to letters, which will be a vital part of the page. We have said for decades that we do not want to see letters longer than 250 words, and there are two good reasons for that. The shorter the letters, the more we can publish. Also, the shorter the letter, the more likely it will be read.

In all the years that I handled reader submissions, I argued that the best way to ensure that something would not be read was to make it longer. I still believe that to be the case.

We will continue to publish as many letters as possible, because we believe our letters section makes a valuable contribution to community dialogue. We offer a chance to discuss the issues without all of the problems that plague social media these days — the trolling, the hiding behind fake names, the ad hominem attacks and so on.

We will also continue to strengthen what we offer in the Opinion section of our website.

Again, it is important that local voices be heard in a responsible, respectful environment.

The Times Colonist remains committed to the role played by our Comment pages. There has not been an overhaul of that section for several years, and it is time to act.

We understand that change is not always easy. Give the new presentation a couple of weeks; we are sure that the new look will be an improvement.

Dave Obee is editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist.


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