Editorial Slant
by Marta Tarbell
Editorial Slant
Feb 21, 2007 | 215 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My phone has been ringing, my email inbox is full and I’m being stopped on the street by readers outraged by Rob Schultheis’s column in Tuesday’s Watch in which he attacked the entire town of Delta for the Delta County jury’s verdict in the Valley Floor valuation trial.

I’m being told that I’ve degraded The Watch, that the column was not worthy of publication, that we have irreparably damaged Telluride’s relationship with Delta.

To all of you who have contacted me, and to others who feel the same way, I owe an explanation.

Rob’s column was certainly vitriolic, so much so that I wasn’t sure whether or not to run it on first reading – and believe it or not, worked to tone it down before publication.

It was a close call, and maybe the wrong call, but it has done what newspaper columns are supposed to do, and that is to generate impassioned and heartfelt discussion.

Sometimes it is too easy to generate debate, and it’s fair to ask: What does a column that consists mostly of name-calling and bigoted attacks contribute to meaningful public discourse? 

When Rob first joined The Watch a few months ago, we agreed he would not engage in personal attacks in his columns for us.

Rob can be a brilliant writer, and in Tuesday’s column, he certainly represented his point of view – one that is shared by others in this community – with passion. But he can also cross the line into personal attacks.

Was Tuesday’s attack on the entire citizenry of Delta County personal? 

Well, yes and no.  It went after no individuals, but it did resort to vicious stereotyping.

So why did we run it?

Rob’s column amounted to a howl of fury, a fierce expression of pain; it was a representation of not only Rob’s feelings in the wake of a court decision with enormous local ramifications, but of the feelings of many others in the community, as well.

Rob’s column was impolitic and raw; I doubt it helped his cause – more likely, in my opinion, it hurt it. Written in the vein of Hunter Thompson or Edward Abbey, it’s an expression of righteous indignation, a variant of their gonzo journalism.

Is it a successful example of that deliberately disreputable genre? 

Well, honestly, I think Rob can do better. But part of the value of the piece is that it comes from the heart; it was written in the moment; it has emotional honesty.

Apart from the admittedly questionable legitimacy of the gonzo journalism style, there is another reason I decided to run the piece.

As a community newspaper, The Watch has a responsibility to open its pages to diverse points of view. To have killed Rob’s piece would have been to silence a view shared by many in this community (a few oldtimers have winkingly applauded the piece for re-conjuring the days when hippie-baiting was a hazard they faced whenever venturing out of our precious little valley on the Western Slope).

There are other writers who could have supported the town’s condemnation effort and expressed dismay at the jury verdict with more moderation, and we will certainly publish them if and when they submit their comments. However, we at The Watch have always believed that opinion, no less than straight news, must be edited for clarity, fairness and accuracy. By those standards, I could have killed Rob’s piece, which most of you who have contacted me have told me in no uncertain terms is what I should have done.

Well, this was a judgment call, a close one, and if I had it to do over, I could just as easily have come down on the other side. This is not to apologize for having run the piece, only to report to you, our readers, that in my mind, Rob’s howl of rage was, in the final analysis, archival. It documents a kind of passion – elitist, yes; infantile, yes, but passionate, nonetheless – that has defined Telluride since those early representatives of the New West began to recreate Telluride as their variation on utopia in the early 1970s.

This episode has had its lessons. In the wake of readers’ extremely strong reaction to Rob’s unbridled rage, next time (although, he and I have agreed, no more attacks – well, except for certain morally bankrupt international corporations, CIA operatives and political figures) I may decide differently. There is no blanket standard by which to judge opinion; finally, in the end, it comes down to nothing more than an editor’s gut instinct, I’m afraid.

To those who found Rob’s un-tempered rage disgusting, unsettling and unworthy of publication, all I can say is this: In publishing it, I hope that The Watch allowed those among us who were devastated and surprised by the verdict in Delta to vent.
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