Editorial or never-read-it-orial?
I have read newspapers from the time that I could read, around the age of seven. In fact, I was trying to read newspapers even before I could read.
At the time I was living with my grandparents; and my grandfather – an attendant at the local swimming pool – would, without fail, bring home a copy of Zimbabwe's national daily, the Herald, at the end of each day.
As soon as my grandfather arrived, I would get the newspaper from him, sit on the stoep, stretch out the oversized paper, and try to make sense of the world from the printed word. So hours would pass by; I doubt I understood much of it.
When I could read the paper properly, I would occasionally read out the stories to my grandfather, sometimes rewarded with a small present. But there was one part of the newspaper I was never drawn to: the editorial, also known as the leader. This is the part of the newspaper in which the editor or some underling writes an opinion about a current issue. It's the part of the newspaper that I found oppressive and drab, a marked change from the life and personalities that lit up the rest of the paper.
Fast forward to the present. The editorial is still the last thing I will read in a newspaper, if at all. I have never quite worked out why. Perhaps it's because I am older and I already hold set opinions on most issues. It could be because of the anonymity or the fact that editorials are puffed out and confident, providing solutions that we all know no one, especially the government, will heed.
Even after I started working at a newspaper, I couldn't muster much interest in editorials, except in the few instances when the editor asked me to write one.
Then, a few years ago, while out on my usual rounds of second-hand bookshops, I bought a copy of Granta's 53rd issue, the theme of which was news.
I was surprised to read in the piece Writing for Nobody by Eric Jacobs that there are people whose actual job is writing leaders. In fact, his first and last jobs involved penning editorials. Just that.
At one of those jobs, the newspaper commissioned a market research into its readers and their reading patterns. People were paid to read an issue of the newspaper "and then interrogated about their reaction while we studied them through a two-way mirror. They had read at least something on every page until they came to mine. Now there was utter silence. No one of them had read a single word."
He writes that this is the "slenderest of anecdotal evidence" but there is reason to believe that no one really cares about editorials.
"Politicians and other self-publicists may like to gaze at their musings in print, but ordinary readers, people who pay for their newspapers, hardly care what those opinions are. Even I don't read leaders now that I no longer write them."
If the editorial is really important, why is it not placed on page one (occasionally newspapers do, when they really have something to say) or page three, the newspaper's prime real estate?
My days on that stoep are long lost, but I sometimes wonder if I ever had to read the editorial for my grandfather. It's safe to say I never did.