Journalists have to be fastidious about keeping opinions out of their writing, but that’s about to change for longtime Wichita Eagle reporter Suzanne Tobias.
Tobias, who joined The Eagle in 1990, has been named the publication’s new editorial page writer.
“I joked with my husband that I have 28 years of opinions bottled up inside me ready to come out,” Tobias laughed.
She said she’ll still have to be careful to be fair to all sides, “except now I’ll be able to go a little further and make a case, which is exciting.”
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Eagle executive editor Michael Roehrman said Tobias’ role will be “fostering community conversations.”
“Basically Suzanne has the depth of connections to this community that I think are really essential to doing this job well.”
Tobias has held a variety of positions at The Eagle, including roles as an editor, lifestyle columnist and, most recently, education reporter.
There will no longer be a full-time education reporter at The Eagle. Other reporters will share responsibility for coverage.
Tobias said education is something she’ll continue to cover, but in a new way. She said there are all kinds of local and state issues she wants to explore, such as what makes a vibrant workforce and how to keep young people in the area.
Bringing perspective to local issues is “something we can bring readers better than anyone else can,” Roehrman said.
Tobias said she’s not been directed to approach her opinion writing with a particular slant.
“As far as are we liberal or are we conservative? No. I think The Eagle through the years has fallen on both sides of that.”
Roehrman said The Eagle’s editorial board will consist of him, Tobias and general manager Dale Seiwert, who all have “definite differences in political opinions.”
“What I’ve aimed for while I’ve been running the opinion pages is to get a balance of viewpoints,” Roehrman said. “I think for us to figure anything out, we need to hear from all sides.”
Roehrman will continue to serve as editorial page editor. Unlike The Eagle’s previous community engagement editor role, which included opinion writing, selecting and editing guest editorials and editing letters to the editor among other things, Tobias’ focus is writing.
She said she’ll do reporting along the way as well.
“Now something could happen in the city, and I will write the same day. I will be out in the community actually interviewing people . . . and putting those quotes into my opinion piece.”
Colleen McCain Nelson, a former Eagle writer and current opinion editor for Eagle parent company McClatchy, helped select Tobias for the job.
“During her tenure at The Eagle, Suzanne has demonstrated a strong commitment to community engagement and journalism that affects readers’ lives,” Nelson said in an e-mail. “Most important, she’s a first-rate journalist, and she will work to ensure that The Eagle’s editorial voice remains strong by delivering high-quality opinion journalism.”
Tobias said she hopes to be an ambassador for The Eagle.
“I see my role in large part as educating the public about the importance of local journalism.”
She’ll also continue her popular Read ICT community-wide reading challenge and may do similar projects on other topics and issues.
Tobias also wants to work more closely with colleagues to see what they’re covering “because I think this is a fantastic team of local journalists.”
She also hopes to have some fun and bring readers along with “a lighthearted approach sometimes” much like her lifestyle column used to do.
Tobias often wrote about her two children, such as the time they stopped at Towne East Square’s parking lot on the way to school to watch the sunrise. She also did a couple of columns standing up for the city after someone complained about it.
“I think what we need to tap into more is the way people really live,” Tobias said. “Stuff that maybe affects them more directly or things that might make people think in a different way — like the sunrise column.”
Her headline for that column might describe her new job, too: “Life instructions: ‘Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.’ ”