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A PRIMER Do you ever wonder who writes this stuff?

When you read commentary in this space, do you ever wonder who writes it? It's a fair question, and if letters of recent weeks are an indication, there's confusion about the matter.

That is understandable, given that by our memory the last time we explained who does what on various parts of this page was more than a decade ago (and perhaps a couple). And the fact is the responsibility has changed over the years.

Many of our recent letters assume that our new Executive Editor, Steve Wilson, writes the editorials that fill this space. He does not. Editor and Publisher Jim Paxton writes the editorials. But he didn't use to. The task was primarily handled over the years by a series of editorial page editors until the most recent one, David Cox, departed for a church-related job last November. Jim Paxton has written the editorials ever since.

Steve Wilson does write a column to the right of this space on most Sundays. What's the difference between an editorial and a column? Editorials, which appear in this space, reflect the official position of the newspaper on the topic of the day. Columns, be they by Steve Wilson, our community columnists, or our nationally syndicated columnists such as Susan Estrich or George Will, represent the views of the author. They may or may not square with the editorial positions of the newspaper, and often, refreshingly, they wander away from political topics to discuss matters of everyday life.

Another question we are often asked is, how do you come up with topics for editorials? The answer is that some days - particularly when Congress and the Legislature are out of session - it is an act of desperation. The late Don Pepper, former editorial page editor for the Sun, used to say jokingly that if all else fails, attack Congress. But some days even that doesn't work and one has to be creative.

That in turn should shed some light on the purpose of editorials. They are intended to identify issues and express a point of view. The assumption is not that we are right all the time - far from it. The purpose is to provoke thought and discussion - the sort of competition of ideas that refines and shapes this thing we call democracy. Because we sometimes have to stretch for subject matter, we find that as with most people some of our opinions are more strongly held than others. Some become themes and core positions. Others pass by the way.

Finally, some have asked us about the matter of signed editorials and columns. Jim Paxton still signs his columns, although they are few and far between these days. He formerly also added his name to the bottom of editorials he wrote. That was simply to let people know it was his opinion and not necessarily that of the editorial page editor.

We've now done away with that practice because a) we no longer have an editorial page editor; and b) people, particularly in the media, tend to see signed editorials as having some extra weight or importance in the newspaper's opinion hierarchy. That was never intended and so we've put the practice aside.

So that's our primer on who does what on this page and why. We are ever grateful to readers who spend time here. And we remind those readers that what we appreciate most of all is when they take pen in hand and send us their views in letters we can share with other readers of this page. 

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