Salt Lake Tribune editor discusses changes in journalism and politics with students

By: Meisha Christensen

SALT LAKE CITY – The extreme political division is hazardous for the country, said Salt Lake City Tribune writer of nearly 38 years, Paul Rolly as he addressed University of Utah students on Wednesday.

Rolly has seen it all when it comes to news, from the river flowing down State Street to the first artificial heart transplant in Utah; he has been there to cover nearly every story genre.  For years Rolly found pride in writing the traditional hard fact news story.  Over 13 years ago Rolly’s career changed directions when he became an opinion columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune.

Rolly said, “I was trained to create stories that had fairness and balance through objective writing…. I have learned that sometimes when striving for that balance the truth is lost.”

Writing opinion pieces has helped Rolly in his passion for covering political affairs.  Having graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Rolly has always been drawn toward covering the on goings of the government.

“I look at things objectively and then listen instead of striving only for balance, I make up my own mind of what is right and what angle I want to take,” said Rolly.

U of U English student Brandon Richards agreed with Rolly that an opinion column is an ideal medium for political conversation.

“So often news is just hard facts.  It is easy to lose the story and the meat that is behind it all…. The opinion column lets you do the investigative reporting with a creative spin and it is easier to find the details behind the facts,” said Richards.

Political matters are usually categorized as heated topics and Rolly noted that by having an opinion column he can more freely express his opinion without feeling obligated to create a balanced argument.  However he did note that he tries to remain open minded to other ideas and thoughts.

Politics are a passionate topic for many but according to Rolly, the political scene has changed from when he first began covering news and not necessarily in a good way.  Rolly said that Democrats and Republicans don’t just have heated debates any more, now they do not even tolerate one another’s views.

There was a time when Rolly was covering a session of the legislature in 1985 and the mentality on Capitol Hill was one of open-mindedness.    Rolly recalled hearing the words, “they need us,” in reference to a day when Republicans could not agree to pass a tax increase and the Democratic leaders were needed to assist with the vote.

Rolly noted that this kind of give and take method would never happen in today’s political world.  When writing his columns he has a strict policy to attack procedures and positions never directly a person individually or personally.  He said this bloodbath attitude can be left to the politicians, for often that seems like all they do.

Sara Seistrand, a political science major at the U and a campus political forum instructor, said she spent a semester in Washington DC and the mindset Rolly described is the same in politics across the board.

“This is a real national problem it is a constant competition and neither side is cooperating and because of it they cannot get anything done,” said Seistrand “an opinion column is the perfect realm to address this issue because he [Rolly] has the opportunity to find the truth and look into the real factors.”

Rolly’s opinion columns are available in the Salt Lake Tribune every Sunday.