Jack Pollock
Since 2001, the Portland Mercury Users Group Yahoo! Group has followed the paper. We've thought about what it has to offer. We've pointed out its successes and failures. But this week, instead of spouting what we think, we opened the discussion to a range of opinionated outsiders.

In particular, people couldn't help talking about the "News" section. "How seriously am I supposed to take the news?" we were asked. "Is it a joke or real? And why did Busse run for mayor?"

You can't blame them for asking. A lot of the Mercury's content is inconsequential, juvenile, and just for laughs. But then, tossed into that fluffy mix, is a section where the Mercury covers City Hall, the police, and other weighty topics. It is a serious moment in an otherwise entertaining read.

Say, for the sake of argument, that we've established that the section is to be taken seriously. The question then becomes, "What is the value of the 'News,' as told by the Mercury? Is there anything there I wouldn't get from the Oregonian or Willamette Week?"

We think there is.

Our proposed solution to the widespread confusion about the news section is simple: Why not simply call it "Opinion"? There's no shame in revealing outright that what the Mercury is providing is an interpretation of local politics. The articles on this page tend to contain a kernel of hard news, but it is the commentary surrounding it that provides the context and worth.

According to Wm. Steven Humphrey, Mercury Editor-in-Chief, the intent behind calling this page "News" is to challenge standard journalistic conventions, to do the news differently and not apologize for it. But how many readers go through the news section thinking, "Wow, the Mercury is subverting the dominant paradigm for print journalism!" It seems a more common response is, "This isn't news!"

The Mercury is not choosing to implement our suggestion permanently. After this week, the page will go back to being called "News." But we hope this issue--and this article--opens the door to further discussion and critique.

Join us, and continue this discussion, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/portlandmercuryusersgroup/