One of the pillars of the community-wide communication service The Press provides is the guest commentary.
These address local topics and issues at some length and appear on the Commentary page alongside the essays by syndicated columnists on national and world matters. Under the name of the guest column’s author, instead of a wire service it says “For The Press,” because typically they are written expressly for publication on this page.
Guest commentaries strongly contribute to the public discourse. So far this year, we have published 36 of them — an average of one per week. They allow people involved in an issue or with an acknowledged expertise on a topic to make their case directly to the South Jersey shore community we serve.
Locally elected leaders at all levels write guest columns, which give them control over the whole article instead of having their views and words presented through a reporter. Two written this year by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, for example, made good use of that opportunity.
In April, LoBiondo talked comprehensively about what he has been able to achieve in improving care for South Jersey veterans and what still needs to be done — an efficient update and a must-read for veterans.
He returned with a guest column in June making his arguments in favor of reforming and upgrading the nation’s air traffic control system, published on the day he cosponsored legislation in Congress to do so. LoBiondo made sure his reasons for the reform and understanding of the issues were directly available to his constituents.
Guest columns sometimes feature opposing arguments by local leaders. In January, for example, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian each wrote in favor of their opinion about how casino payments in lieu of property taxes should be split between city and county. That disagreement continues.
Cathleen D. Bennett, N.J. Department of Health commissioner, wrote last month to explain why a state proposal to integrate its administration of mental, physical and behavioral health care is right for patients. A few weeks later, opposition faded and the reorganization proceeded.
Frequently guest columns respond to and in varying degrees oppose the views expressed in Press editorials. For example, after an editorial used a Wildwood development as an example of continued building on islands at flood risk, Mayor Ernie Troiano argued pretty convincingly that this wasn’t fair, considering the positive coverage the newspaper had given to projects in many other, more upscale island municipalities.
There are some criteria, such as a 750-word limit, and guest columns are edited like everything else in the newspaper. They should address local or state issues and be written by someone with standing or expertise. That’s invariably someone directly involved in an issue or a publicly recognized expert.
Examples of the former include the state director of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association discussing the Camden County policing model, and leaders of the Venice Park Civic Association and Chelsea Neighborhood Association opposing the state takeover of Atlantic City to keep its water utility.
Expertise examples include former congressman Patrick J. Kennedy writing about children’s mental health services, and Cory Morowitz, managing partner of Morowitz Gaming Advisors and the gaming-consultancy consortium GGH, analyzing the downtown Las Vegas formula for gaming-city redevelopment.
The number and variety of guest columns show these simple criteria work.
They give a powerful, direct voice to people whose views typically matter the most on the topics they’re addressing. And like the newspaper’s other contributions to the public dialogue — stories, letters, online comments and more — they promote better understanding and help the community move forward.
Kevin Post is editorial page editor.