George Pyle: What Mia Love doesn’t understand about how newspapers work

This is the editorial page of The Salt Lake Tribune.

I am the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.

This is not an editorial.

This is a column, or a commentary or, if you want to sound all hip, jargonish and New York Timesy about it, an op-ed.

An editorial, by definition, is an essay expressing the official view of a newspaper, as arrived at by its publisher and/or editorial board. There is no byline, no named author, because it isn’t officially the view of any one human, but of the institution. (And, as such, should never be blamed on any other editor, reporter, photographer, cartoonist, sportswriter or janitor, no matter how much you hate it.)

This is not one of those.

This is a column. The view of one single, solitary ink-stained wretch/pixel-wrangling drudge whose name and likeness are attached. Some of us work for this newspaper. Some of us have their work syndicated across the nation. Some such pieces are written by real people from the real world. Editorial cartoons fit in the same category: They speak for the one, not the many. If you quote from any of these, you cite the writer, and add the name of the newspaper as additional information and proper credit.

There are highly intelligent newspaper people who can’t keep the opinion page terms straight. They mix up editorials and commentaries and have been known to utter the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard oxymoron “guest editorial.” It drives me buggy. In that way, I’m a lot like the gun nuts who are unable to focus on the meat of any argument if someone can’t tell a clip from a magazine.

All this is a distinction that makes a whole lot of difference because, in journalism, who is saying something is often just about as important as what is being said. That is why most stuff in any newspaper — news, opinion, sports, bridge column, comic strips — is attributed to some source. It is part of the information owed to readers as they evaluate which of the thousands of bits of information in every edition to believe, take seriously, ponder, laugh at or reject outright.

It is why editors, readers, sources and people who get written about often disagree about how often and under what conditions newspapers attribute information to “a source in a position to know,” or “an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the department.” The concern that newspapers do that too often is valid, though, as the whole point of journalism is to tell people stuff they need to know, it is a tool that is much too valuable to ever abandon.

And it is why the editors of Salt Lake City’s two big newspapers are rightfully a little steamed at Rep. Mia Love right now for the sloppy attribution that has been part of some of her taxpayer-funded mailers in recent weeks.

Utah’s 4th District member of Congress — or, more realistically, someone who works for her — has been putting out colorful post cards that include verbiage meant to cast Love in the most favorable light. They include a handful of quotes that are attributed to “The Salt Lake Tribune.” Or to that other newspaper that I’ve just gone blank on.

To those of us who work here — and, one would think, those who are bright enough to read our work — such an attribution strongly suggests that the praise of Love was uttered by the newspaper’s official voice. It wasn’t. These out-of-context blurbs were written by outside commenters or, in one case, by Love herself.

It was misleading, deliberately or not, to suggest those sentences were the work of the newspapers. It reflects poorly on the congresswoman and her staff for standing by the misattribution instead of issuing any kind of correction or apology.

I suppose we should take it as praise that Love and her people apparently thought that putting those words in our institutional mouth made them more credible. But it didn’t.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.