Sioux City Journal editor Mitch Pugh tells Romenesko readers about this Sunday front-page editorial [the full-page image is here] and how it’s been received:
The reaction to the editorial has been overwhelmingly positive, especially from local readers. We expected such a dramatic presentation would garner some attention, but we certainly weren’t expecting that it would take off so quickly on a national scale. On Sunday, I talked with the Associated Press, CBS Radio and CNN. I was set to do an appearance on CNN with Soledad O’Brien on Monday morning but we couldn’t get transmission out of Sioux City. Of course, there’s been some negativity – mostly from those who read about it outside of Sioux City and primarily from those who want to view it through their own political lens.
Obviously, the tragic death of Kenneth Weishuhn was the catalyst for this piece. But it was inspired by a confluence of events. We learned of Kenneth’s suicide, which his family believes was the result of intense bullying both in and out of school, in the same week that the documentary “Bully” debuted in Sioux City. A significant portion of “Bully” focuses on a Sioux City middle school student. Sioux City has one of the most proactive anti-bullying policies in the country, yet “Bully” demonstrates that there is much, much more work to be done.
The events of the week struck us not only as a sobering reminder of what we have yet to achieve as a community, but also as an opportunity to bring much-need attention to an issue too many of us would rather ignore. Running an editorial on the front of our newspaper is rare but not unprecedented. We’ve run an A1 editorial roughly a half dozen times in the last five years. But we’ve never cleared the page for an opinion piece. Still, it was in keeping with our news organization’s strong belief that we must serve as advocates for our community’s well-being. Local news organizations can’t shy away from that responsibility.
The editorial board – which includes myself, Opinion Page Editor Mike Gors, Managing Editor Bruce Miller, Business Editor Dave Dreeszen and Publisher Ron Peterson – discussed the idea and decided to move ahead. We reached out to syndicated cartoonist Brian Duffy, who used to work for the Des Moines Register and draws a twice-a-week cartoon for us, about creating something special. Once we had the artwork and the editorial, we made the call to run it on A1. I would be remiss not to draw attention to the important role our publisher Ron Peterson played here. It’s not an easy call to devote that kind of space to any topic, but Ron was an advocate for the idea from the start. Our design team in Munster, lead by designer Diane Cunningham and regional design director Ben Cunningham, helped us realize our vision for a stark, powerful presentation.
Of course, the next step is to try to build on what we’ve achieved with this front page. If we really want to make a difference, we have to move beyond writing editorials and look for ways to partner with organizations in our community to keep the conversation going. I hope we can do that in a meaningful way.