Thirty-three years is a long time. But not long enough to cloud indelible memories.
I first lived in Charlotte from 1972 to 1975, and even though I was just 3 to 6 at the time, those years were the foundation of a lifelong love for this community. Through two decades in Miami, Durham, Mississippi and Boston, I recalled Charlotte as a place unlike any other – a caring place, safe, comforting, welcoming.
Now, I take over as editorial page editor in a very different community. The Charlotte region is a lot bigger. More entrenched problems. Infinitely more diverse. With far more intimidating threats to its future.
But as Billy Joel sang, “The good ol' days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.” Some of my Norman Rockwellian sense of Charlotte in the '70s no doubt was a halcyon distortion. And Charlotte today is as equipped as anyone to tackle its challenges and thrive.
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Our work cut out for us
I intend to make sure The Observer and our editorial pages help achieve that.
Charlotte's diversity of opinions can be one of its strengths. But there are things we can all agree on. We want strong public schools, healthy neighborhoods, ethical and accountable government, safe streets, clean air and water, harmonious race relations, effective transportation and a vibrant economy.
OK, so I'm the editorial page editor, not a genie, and achieving these things is hard work for all of us.
Charlotte leaders and residents, though, have a history of caring about our future and taking steps to shape it.
Today, that's trickier: Business leaders and civic insiders can't dictate how things go as easily as they used to. There are more voices in the mix. That's democracy. That's messy.
That's where you and I step in.
Join the conversation
I'm a big believer that more brains chewing on a topic will almost always lead to a better solution than fewer brains. So consider the editorial page as a convener of brains, the instigator of community conversations. We'll tell you what we think, and we want to hear what you think, both in print and online.
It didn't take long in this new job to learn that not all of you always agree with The Observer (and that you're more vocal when you disagree than when you agree). That's great. Let's have a community discussion that leads to better solutions.
We'll be taking clear, firm stands in our editorials, including on the toughest issues of the day. You'll also see dissenting sides represented on the editorial and viewpoint pages. We don't think we can always convince you that our take is the correct one. But we hope we can make you think.
Hold the vitriol, please
As for my approach, I'm not blindly partisan. I see both Democrats and Republicans do wrong-headed things quite often. I believe all points on the political spectrum have valid views, depending on the topic. And I'm confused by zealots on either side who can't fathom anyone thinking differently than they do.
I believe that government should be as small as it can be while still playing a vital role where free markets fail. I believe in equal opportunity for all people and reject discrimination in all its forms. I believe in hard work, compassion for those less fortunate than myself, and accountability for one's actions, especially if one is a public official.
Newspapers as instruments
My father, Jim Batten, was also a newspaperman. He had an abiding faith in the role newspapers can play that is especially poignant to me as The Observer's editorial pages embark on a new era.
“In today's world, the communities we serve … face very daunting problems that must be solved if we are to continue to realize the promise of America for our children and grandchildren,” he said. “And I deeply believe that newspapers, well edited, well published, are wonderfully situated to be instruments of helping America find its way, solve its problems, seize its opportunities. And that's an ennobling way to spend one's life.”
Let's get started.