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Every customer different; most always right

Not long after the 2010 election, a group of local Democrats visited the editor.

Among their complaints: The newspaper is too Republican, too conservative.

The editorial page that fall had endorsed Republican candidates for governor, U.S. Senate, state treasurer, state comptroller, three congressional races, and one Illinois House seat.

But Democratic candidates for attorney general and secretary of state also had received endorsements.

Still too Republican, the Democrats said.

That assessment was challenged last weekend in a published letter to the editor, which asserted, based on a sample of editorial cartoons, that this newspaper “has a liberal bias on the Opinion page.”

Yes, the same Opinion page that had endorsed eight Republicans and two Democrats in 2010.

If the customer is always right, who is wrong?

WELCOME TO THE news business ... like no business we know.

We would dispute that this newspaper, even on its Opinion page, is too this, or too that.

But that’s just our opinion. Readers are entitled to theirs.

And even if they disagree with us, we still publish them.

“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong,” sang 1960s group Buffalo Springfield.

As we’ve noted before, allegations of newspaper bias say more about the people who make those charges than they do about the newspaper.

But that, too, is just our opinion.

You’re entitled to yours.

We appreciate that you’re willing to express it through the newspaper.

FOR THE FIFTH year in the row, this column recognizes our tens of thousands of newspaper customers during Customer Appreciation Week, which ends today.

Maybe it’s karma that this also is National Newspaper Week (the topic of last week’s column).

A newspaper is a funny business – several businesses, actually, with several different kinds of customers.

And they, like all customers, are always right – except when their opinions disagree with other customers’ opinions. Then readers will have to decide who’s right.

We are an information provider and advertising medium in print and digital forms, a commercial printer, a distribution business ... among other things. All of them have different customers.

If you haven’t heard us say it lately, Thanks.

We appreciate your business.

EACH YEAR THIS column publishes the editorial department’s five-point customer service pledge.

After all, you should know what we say about you when you’re not around!

With some explanatory notes, here it is again.

We pledge to:

1. BE ACCURATE: We serve customers best by giving them timely information they can trust.

“Relevant information. Marketing Solutions. Community Advocates.” – that’s our company’s brand promise to serve our readers, advertisers and communities.

That means (among other things) that we seek to provide timely news that readers can trust. When we get the facts wrong, we want to correct them promptly.

Our corrections policy is published daily on Page A2: We care about accuracy, and we want readers to let us know when we get something wrong.

They’re seldom shy about helping us with that.

2. BE ACCESSIBLE: Make it easy for customers to make requests, ask questions, and offer comments.

We’re not hard to reach. Staff members’ names, phone numbers and email addresses are published daily in the newspaper and on our website. Contact information is at the top of local stories, under the reporter’s name – and for the editor, it’s next to his picture with this weekly column.

Your comments and criticisms are welcome. They help us to do a better job.

And those occasional compliments help, too.

3. BE TRANSPARENT: Openly and honestly explain our role and performance.

This weekly column is a conversation with readers, often about the newspaper’s policies and practices. We’re right here every week – more than 250 consecutive weeks so far. Although the editor sometimes takes a vacation, his column never does.

We hope to use this space to explain how we make decisions about what we do. Your questions about those decisions often drive the content of this column.

And as always, dissenting opinions are welcome – in print and online.

This should be a two-way conversation.

4. BE UNDERSTANDING: Respect and reflect our customers’ diverse interests and divergent opinions.

You won’t find a perfect balance of opinions every day, but over time, the Opinion pages reflect the many and varied thoughts and ideas of our readers (and others), even those we might disagree with.

Conservatives and liberals contribute, as do partisan Democrats and Republicans, and people who identify with none of those labels. Our intent is to provide a forum for intellectually honest discussion as we all try to figure out the truth.

That’s not easy to do, given the disingenuous nature of exaggerated political speech. We believe you are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. That includes repeating the unsupported assertions of others. We want to be a forum – in print or online – for public discussion of your ideas.

Participate, please.

5. SAY ‘YES’: Find some way to accommodate every customer’s reasonable request.

Even if it’s not Page 1 news, we will try to get your information published.

Our well-read Community section, published each Saturday with the Business section, includes news by, from and about our readers. Each week you will see reader-submitted articles and photos with the names and faces of hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of local folks. No charge.

As always, people also have an option if they want total control of the size, timing, content and placement of their message in this newspaper.

That, however, comes with a cost. It’s called advertising.

That is the source of most of our income, which allows us to offer our many services to customers.

Thank you for being one of them.

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