In my early days as an editorial writer, I struggled with the idea that I was supposed to have opinions on everything.

“Who am I to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do?” I asked my patient wife, Gail, who, by then, had become used to my ongoing identity crises.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “No one reads the editorials.”

I felt a wave of relief. Maybe it was going to be OK, after all!  But, it turns out that Gail was wrong.

As I have found in the last 15 years, people really do read the editorials. And they read the columns; and the letters to the editor; and the cartoons; and they have opinions about the opinions, which they will share with you.

Every workday has involved hearing from readers, sometimes when they are happy but often because something we said or didn’t say ticked them off.


This week, I said goodbye to my friends in the Portland Press Herald newsroom, some of the smartest, funniest, most talented, hard-working people I have ever met. And now, as I retire as the editorial page editor of these newspapers, I have to say goodbye to the readers of this page, who have, let’s say, made my life interesting.

Monday mornings often started with something like this:

“I can’t believe that you call yourself an editorial page editor,” wrote one happy customer in 2013. “You’re an oped liberal bomb thrower … I’ll be moving on up to the right-wing blogs to get the real slant on the world we presently live in. Get your head out of the clouds, you bonehead!”

Or there was this comment I got after writing a column about putting my old dog, Nellie, to sleep.

“Typically, I detest everything that you stand for, however …”

How do you respond to that? I have so many questions: Detest? Everything? And what do you think I stand for?


All I could say was, thank you, she was a very good dog.

Those weren’t the only kind of responses I got. Virtually everyone I hear from is polite, even when they disagree. Most of the people who got in touch with me were positive and encouraging. Many had more information about the topic I’d written about, and deepened my understanding of it.

I always encouraged people to write for publication, and you’ve seen many of them in print, but some people just wanted to continue the conversation with me. That two-way communication is what makes opinion writing different from reporting the news, where the reporter collects information and constructs a story for people who didn’t know it was happening.

I’m no expert. There is no reader who is less qualified than me to have an opinion, and there are many who are much more informed on just about every topic. The back and forth between us has made me better and enriched these pages.

Sometimes I think I did some of my best writing on Monday afternoons, responding to a critique of my Sunday column from a reader. Cleaning up last week, I found this email I’d written to a conservative who had accused me of saying things I couldn’t really believe to support the government. It made me think about what it is that I do believe:

“I am a liberal,” I wrote, “which, to me, means that I give equal value to two principals that are often at odds: equality and fairness … I think government is the institution that balances those two values – making sure that society is as fair and as equal as possible. I see government as the system we use to work together for the common good, not necessarily an enemy to my liberty (although it can be).”


That pretty much still stands. I have less confidence in our ability to talk through our problems and find common ground than I had in 2007. I used to be more patient about the pace of social change and more attracted to moderate ideas. I worry that the complacency of liberals like me helped cause this reactionary moment that threatens the very idea of democracy.

But I still think our best future would come from a government committed to balancing equality and fairness, understanding that change is inevitable and nothing is going to be perfect for very long.

Like these pages, democracy should be a conversation.

Thank you for letting me talk for so long and thank you for telling me what you think.

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