By: M.L. Stein
Rotating system began 13 months ago at the Ventura, Calif., Star-Free Press sp.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a newspaper names two local citizens to its editorial board?
Lots of good things for both the paper and the public, said John Irby, editor of the Ventura, Calif., Star-Free Press.
Recently, the Star-Free Press for the fifth time placed two community representatives on the board in a rotating system that began 13 months ago.
The pair, Jo Ann Wedding, a Ventura lawyer, and Deborah Atkins of Oxnard, manager of an engineering training program at a Navy base, provide a first-hand community perspective, Irby said. He said he or editorial page editor Timm Herdt make final decisions on editorials (barring the intervention of publisher John Wilcox) but noted that the input of the public board members is valuable and needed.
“They tell us what they think the community is interested in and how they feel about a particular issue,” Irby explained. “They have an insight and knowledge that we may not have.”
The addition of public members was initiated to give the board balance by providing a spectrum of opinion, Irby said.
Noting that the nonstaff board members have lived in the community for several years, he commented, “I’ve only been here a year and a half. I can learn a lot from them. They have brought issues to the table we might not have thought about.”
Both of the new board members are community activists. Wedding is a member and past president of the Rotary Club and has served on the Ventura YMCA board and the local school district’s Educational Foundation. Atkins’ activities have included the Oxnard Youth Action Committee and African-American Chamber of Commerce.
Irby said the newspaper ? and the community ? also benefit because the volunteer members can tell citizens how a newspaper works.
The editor said there were very few staff gripes when the outside people were invited to join the board.
“Actually, there were more complaints when we asked the general manager to sit on the board,” Irby recalled. “But he didn’t have the final word either.”