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ARLnow’s opinion columns will be ending after next week

On January 8, 2013, ARLnow published its first regularly-scheduled opinion column, written by Peter Rousselot.

Since then we’ve expanded to eight distinct columns, which run on a biweekly basis. In all, we have published nearly 2,000 articles from our opinion columnists since Peter’s first piece.

Times change, however, and we must not be afraid to adapt as the media landscape and reader expectations evolve.

In August we made the decision to end the columns at the end of the year. There were three primary reasons.

  1. A shift in reader perceptions of opinion content. Many readers now perceive the publication of an opinion piece to be a tacit endorsement of it.
  2. A change in reader reactions. We’ve noticed that in the comments, on social media and in emails people are increasingly engaging in personal attacks on our opinion columnists themselves, instead of just debating their opinions.
  3. A need to evolve. Nothing lasts forever and we need to keep what we publish on ARLnow fresh, interesting and relevant to our readers. While interest in the columns remain strong — Jane’s piece on leaf blowers is our most-read post of the year — it feels like it’s time to try something new.

The column decision followed a previous decision to end publication of all unsolicited letters to the editor and op-eds, which itself was made in the wake of the New York Times / Sen. Tom Cotton controversy.

Given the current state of social media and the national discourse, it is simply too fraught of an environment in which to pick what we do and do not publish among opinion contributions. And, frankly, there is no shortage of places where those with opinions can have them heard.

Whether publishing a missive on Medium, a thread on Twitter, or a comment in our comment section, those with opinions are not lacking options for getting them out there. What is more difficult is amplification — getting them widely read. Publication on the homepage of ARLnow is certainly a way to do that, and it’s a power that we take seriously.

As such, instead of rewarding those who write a few paragraphs and send an email with amplification in the form of a letter-to-the-editor post, we are instead considering such opinions for inclusion in news articles on a given topic. Those who have put in the work to get a petition widely signed, to start a coalition, to get politically engaged, to do in-depth research — and then to reach out to us — are more likely to get quoted in these pages.

In the case of the columns, the plan is to find new ways to highlight the perspectives of our current columnists, as well as other knowledgeable and civically-engaged locals. We’re not totally sure what form this will take, but we’re looking forward to working with contributors and readers to present a diverse and representative range of opinions in a way that adds meaningfully to the local discourse while minimizing toxicity.

In the meantime, we are saying goodbye for now to our current columnist lineup. The final Making Room, Community Matters, Modern Mobility and Ed Talk columns will publish this week. The final Progressive Voice, Right Note, Peter’s Take and What’s Next columns will publish next week.

Thank you to our columnists for sharing your time and your knowledge — and for your willingness to put your opinions out there, despite it all — in the interest of trying to make Arlington a better place.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

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