Eugene Weekly : Coverstory : 9.27.07


Eugene Weekly 25th Anniversary Issue

What are We Doing Here?
An introspective look at our unique publication

Starting the Paper
Silver linings in cloudy times

Thanks for the Memories

Getting Readers Excited
Your editor reflects on nearly a decade of reader response

EW Enviro

And time goes on, and on, and…
Eugene Weekly Timeline


Getting Readers Excited
Your editor reflects on nearly a decade of reader response
By Ted Taylor

What does it take to get people excited in Eugene and surrounding communities? How about a little sex, a lot of politics? How about government gone wild, locally and nationally? The stuff of passionate living is found in these pages, and a lot of that passion is in the form of reader response.

When I assumed the EW editor-in-chief position in the summer of 1998, we were running only a handful of letters each week, and the paper was much smaller in page counts and circulation. One way we’ve grown the paper over the past nine-plus years is through encouraging letters to the editor and guest commentaries.

It’s been a wild ride for me, full of surprises and providing me with a grand education. My previous newspaper job was managing editor of Ashland’s daily paper, a fun little rag in a community that’s uniformly liberal and polite compared to Eugene. The diversity of opinion here is far greater (along with the level of cynicism), and the political mix is far more intense and more unpredictable.


The Environment

EW pages are so full of environmental stories, columns and letters that we have become a major environmental publication in the state. One reason is the paper’s mission — unlike other media in town, we think humanity’s impact on the natural world is the biggest story of our time — and another reason is our readers’ response. Eugene is surrounded by outdoor recreation resources and is one of the most environmentally aware cities in the world. It shows in our institutions and our attitudes. And what makes it all so politically charged is the clash between conventional wisdom and broader new perspectives. Old timber money still reigns in Lane County, and developers and polluters are hanging onto as much power as they can. Read about it every week in EW.


Political Expression

Our staff writers follow the political trends and highlights in Lane County and our letter writers fill in the gaps — they help us define the range of opinions and add nuance to all the gray areas in the middle. We give priority to letters and op-eds that advance arguments and keep us on our toes. Our letters reflect the high level of education and knowledge in our readership and carry on a tradition of healthy skepticism. In some ways we are a typical college town when it comes to politics, but intensifying the debate are influences of UO students and faculty, numerous environmental and peace organizations and a heritage of feisty counterculture activism.


The Role of Violence

Another remarkable ongoing discussion in our pages revolves around the role of violence in bringing about social and political change. Eugene area residents are split a dozen ways on what constitutes violence and when, if ever, it is justifiable in defense of society or the environment. Some readers are convinced that our entire planet is being destroyed by polluting corporations and the military-industrial complex, and acts of sabotage are simply last-resort acts of self-defense. Other readers say violent acts are counterproductive and long-term progress will only come through education, political action and peaceful protest. It’s a fundamental issue that plays out everywhere from playground dynamics to foreign policy decisions. Eugene has been home to a number of activists who have turned to arson and other acts of violence to advance political ideals, so the discussion in our pages has particular local relevance. And some of our readers have become so inflamed by the debate that they vandalized our building and left us bomb threats.


The Joys of Art

Is artistic expression the icing on the cake of life, or does art define us and give hope for survival as a species? Either way, art is a driving force in Eugene and fills our pages each week. The music scene in town is remarkable in its variety and quality, amazing painters and sculptors abound, and Eugene is home to many world-class writers and performing artists. Living artistically is what we do, and being an art critic in Eugene is fraught with peril, as you might tell from our readers’ letters.


Sexy or Sexist?

One of the biggest controversies to play out on our pages in recent years had to do with sexual images in our back-pages advertising. Our readers must have come up with a dozen sides to the issue. The ads were offensive, demeaning, objectifying, empowering, expressions of free speech, supporting legitimate businesses, encouraging prostitution and violence, immoral, pandering, fun, outrageous and titillating. We heard from worried parents and lonely guys looking for love. We heard from feminists who were highly offended and feminists who thought the whole issue was silly. Add Dan Savage and his “Savage Love” column to the mix, and we have created the liveliest discussions of sex in media this town has ever seen.


A Polarized Community?

Lane County and Eugene in particular are often viewed as polarized, and EW is sometimes accused of provoking controversy and contributing to the divisiveness. Is it true? Maybe. But in Eugene, and probably the entire country, our best hope for progress can be found in encouraging the clash of ideas.