‘Post-Dispatch’ editor speaks to JCRC

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

The Jewish Community Relations Council heard from the new editorial page editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the group’s regular monthly meeting last week.

Gilbert Bailon began as editorial page editor in November 2007.

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Leonard Frankel, president of the JCRC, said after he and Batya Abramson-Goldstein met with Bailon for lunch, they invited him to speak at the council’s meeting.

Bailon told the JCRC that he hopes to use the Post-Dispatch commentary page as a broad public forum, with a variety of local viewpoints.

“You might have thought that we were more of the people who plop a paper on your doorstep, maybe hit your flowers,” Bailon said. “But we’re a way you can get a platform, a forum for you to have public dialogue. You might not think your opinion can be heard, but it can.”

Bailon encouraged the audience to consider writing letters or guest columns as a way of providing local perspectives on local, national or international issues.

In addition, he said the paper solicits opinions through online resources like forums and blogs on the Post-Dispatch Web site.

“There’s a two-way dialogue that needs to happen. We want to hear from you through blogs, through letters. We want your guest columns on our op-ed page,” Bailon said.

“A lot of us on the editorial pages get very excited, because we have a new forum to communicate.”

A number of the questions from the audience centered on immigration.

Bailon came to St. Louis from Dallas, where he worked first as a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, then taking roles including metro editor, deputy managing editor and executive editor. Since 2003, Bailon, the grandson of immigrants from Mexico, headed Al Dia, a daily Spanish-language newspaper started by the Dallas Morning News.

Bailon said immigration is an example of a multifaceted issue that has local, national and international implications — and plenty of room for local commentary.

He said that while the paper’s editorial board may take one stance, he hopes to get a variety of viewpoints on the subject.

“We may take a stance on immigration, and say that this is a federal problem that needs a solution. However, if anyone from our readership wants to challenge that and say ‘I think my town ought to locking up people, or checking everybody,’ then we want them to write for our newspaper. We want that kind of debate, even though it’s completely different from what we’re saying.”

“I think that’s an important part of what we’re doing,” Bailon said. “I don’t want you to agree with everything we’re saying.”

Update on Sderot

Donn Rubin, Israel Chair of the JCRC, gave an update on the continued rocket attacks from Gaza against southern Israel, and said the audience needed to remain vigilant against potential misinformation reported about the conflict.

Rubin said language used in the media has described Israel’s operations in Gaza as “‘retaliation,’ which implies an eye for an eye.”

“The reality is that rockets just keep coming down (in Sderot), and people cannot live a normal life. Children and adults are being maimed and killed. What can a country do? A country has to protect its citizens,” Rubin said.

There have been 4,000 rocket attacks since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June of 2006, largely affecting the Southern Israeli town of Sderot, he said. That represents a major increase from the pre-Hamas average of 100 Kassam attacks each year, he said. Rubin said Hamas has used “innocent Palestinians as human shields,” for rocket launchers, “in the hopes of using any resulting tragedies as a public relations coup.”

“What can we do?” Rubin asked. “We can be agents of information, against misinformation.” An information packet distributed at the meeting encouraged members to take part in the Israel Emergency Campaign to support Sderot, coordinated by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis., and to call or email congressmen to thank them for supporting a resolution condemning Palestinian rocket attacks.

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