Difference of opinion

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 9, 2009

Now recall that Spy-esque photo of Wieseltier. As Canellos explains it, images like this serve a double role: amusing in their own right, they also tell readers to expect a cultural observation, something lighter and less pressing than the lead editorial. The bottom of the editorial section, in turn, is likely to feature content that’s “a little less immediate than the lead item — maybe something a little more thoughtful in the policy arena.” This differentiation doesn’t just make the page more appealing to readers, Canellos argues; it makes it more likely that the lead editorial itself will pack the desired wallop.

“The comparison I’d draw is to Page One,” says Canellos. “Twenty years ago, you’d say, ‘There isn’t much you can do with Page One. You’ve got the lead story, which is this, and a feature story, which is that.’ But whatever you think of the design, it’s an orchestra in which all the instruments are playing. That’s what we want.”

Looming over Canellos’s remaking of the op-ed pages, of course, is the specter of the Web. Given the proliferation of online analysis and argument, a case could be made that op-ed pages themselves are something of an endangered species. But Canellos — who left a plum post as the Globe’s Washington, DC, bureau chief for his current job — doesn’t see it that way.

“Opinion is free. What we have to do is emphasize anything that rises above that cacophony,” says Canellos. “That means our columnists have to have a much more distinctive voice, and our columns and editorials have to be much better written than the cacophony — more authoritative, more credible, more reliable.

Expanding the Web
Besides revamping the tone and design of the Globe’s op-ed pages, Canellos is working on a new Web initiative — slated for completion in the next couple months — aimed at presenting the Globe’s assorted opinion offerings in a more organic, reader-friendly way. He’s also poised to name two new opinion columnists from inside the paper: TV critic Joanna Weiss and long-time editorial writer Lawrence Harmon.

“To the extent that most blogs are ideological outlets, you can pretty much guess what they’re going to say on any subject,” he adds. “For perfectly legitimate reasons, people will go to ideological blogs for evidence that validates their viewpoint. But we’ve failed as a newspaper if our editorials or the op-ed page reflect predictable blog chatter.”

During our conversation, Canellos stresses that none of these changes should be taken as implicit criticisms of Loth, who ran the editorial page from 2000 to 2009 and now contributes a weekly opinion column. Editors always bring their own vision to a section, he notes; that doesn’t mean that their predecessor’s conception was somehow lacking.

Be that as it may, the Globe ed page has become a more bracing read — at least to this reporter’s eye — since Canellos took over. His upcoming changes to the section, including a new Web initiative, will bear watching (see “Expanding the Web”). So, too, will his relationship with Christopher Mayer, who takes over for Steven Ainsley as publisher in January 2009, and who’ll be Canellos’s boss — not to mention his status as a possible replacement for editor Marty Baron, who’s now been at the Globe for eight successful but demanding years.

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