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General Excellence
Mary Ann Lindley
Editorial Page Editor
Tallahassee Democrat

Reading the editorial page should not be the equivalent of “Eat your spinach,” says Mary Ann Lindley.

Sure, the Tallahassee Democrat’s editorial pages include thoughtful, well-written pieces on issues like the war in Iraq, but on any day, readers can also find musings on popular culture, sports – even garage sales.

Editorial Page Editor Lindley wants readers to see themselves in the pages and has recruited a diverse staff with a variety of experiences. In addition to Lindley, a former Midwestern farm girl who has called Tallahassee home for more than 25 years, the editorial-page staff includes Erika Peterman, a thirtysomething African-American and new mother, and Bill Berlow, whom Lindley describes as “a married father of two who grew up in South Florida, is very serious about his Jewish faith and is so credible that, whatever he writes, you can take it to the bank.” Add to the mix Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Doug Marlette, and readers get pages full of “lively opinions that keep the community talking and a balance of views that ensures that all our readers are represented,” said former Publisher Mike Pate.

“We start the conversation and then people write back,” said Lindley. “I’m a big believer in personal columns that give readers a sense that the newspaper is made up of real people. It’s like, ‘I’ll tell you if you tell me,’ or ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.’ ”

One of Lindley’s innovations, which has been copied in papers across the country, is Zing!, one- or two-line commentaries that allow readers to chime in on the news anonymously. “Tallahassee is a government town and some people are afraid that if they write letters to the editor they might lose their jobs,” she said. “We print about 10 Zings every day, and it’s the best-read thing in the paper.”

The Democrat’s editorial pages reflect a variety of interests: “Pop stars, rock, sex, whatever, as long as it’s well-written,” Lindley said. “We won’t run tripe, but we try to draw people in in inviting ways. It’s kind of a seduction.”

In addition to striving for variety in content, Lindley regularly audits the editorial and op-ed pages to ensure diversity in contributors’ race, gender and political viewpoints. About a third of the opinions expressed on the op-ed page come from columnists of color. “We believe this attention to detail has contributed to the Democrat’s steady increase in circulation and reader satisfaction scores,” said Pate.

But no matter who’s writing, the goal is the same, Lindley said: “Delete the part the reader will skip over and just have fun.”

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