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Editorial: Opinion page is often incomplete without yours – in a letter

Now that we’re in our third year as a monthly community newspaper, there are a lot of things I like about our paper.

But there are things we’re working on doing better, and there’s one that our readers could help us with: letters to the editor.

Why? Because the opinion page of any newspaper, not just this one, should reflect a healthy exchange of ideas, not just those of the editor or publisher.

What I’m talking about differs from a lot of the public discourse we see today: blasts on Facebook or Twitter or otherwise.

I like to read letters to the editor, even in other newspapers. I don’t always agree with a writer, but often I’ll read the letter just to hear their argument.

I like it when people have the guts to put their ideas on paper for posterity – and that really is the case, because that’s what happens when it appears in the newspaper. It won’t be 25 screens down in 10 minutes.  It will be on that page forever.

In my experience, and that includes a stint as an opinion page staffer at a major urban newspaper group, letters to the editor are generally more thoughtful and articulate than much of what I see on social media. Maybe it’s because the writers realize that what they’re submitting may be not only distributed well past their group of Facebook friends, but will also be enshrined for perpetuity.

We are a small newspaper and, as any regular reader knows, we haven’t had a tremendous volume of letters to the editor.

I realize some of that is probably due to the fact that people now find it easier to post their commentary elsewhere. They might consider it safer, too, to rant to their friends rather than present their opinions in a truly public arena.

Then, too, since we also only appear in print monthly, the back-and-forth that sometimes happens on the letters page gets interrupted a bit. But in my experience, not many letters really actually provoke a debate. Most are simply the reader’s opinion on an issue of concern.

That’s important because, as  I’ve already alluded, letters reach a large audience (comparatively), and are read by elected officials and others with influence – who might not be reading Facebook rants. They also add information that may not have been addressed in a news report.

Letters to the editor are among the most-read sections of most newspapers. When I walk through a restaurant or otherwise see people reading nerwspapers, often they have the opinion page open.

Letters can generate discussion as well as influence the direction of public discourse. They can convince readers by using emotions, facts – or some combination of those two, hopefully with an emphasis on the latter. We’re not  interested in publishing rants, but letters that thoughtfully analyze complex issues and events are very welcome.

By writing a letter, citizens can also publicize their involvement in some issue or find others who have similar interests. Letters can also stimulate interest from our reporting staff (we occasionally get a letter that ends up as a news story rather than a letter), and yeah, though that’s also possible with social media, again, the newspaper audience covers many elements of local society and leadership.

I might add that I occasionally hear from people that they’re reluctant to express an opinion, particularly one critical of something going on locally, because they’re concerned about retaliation.

I’ve been involved in newspaper journalism for nearly 35 years and I can’t recall ever hearing about a local letter writer having their house spray-painted or otherwise experiencing any significant blowback, other than an occasional critical response in the letters column.

Though it may have happened infrequently, elsewhere, believe me, if we became aware of serious backlash of any sort to an opinion expressed in a letter in our community, we’d be highly motivated to expose that in a news report.

I certainly encourage writers to  avoid name-calling and flak that isn’t necessary, but sometimes the truth hurts and the fact that it might annoy someone is no reason to wimp out.

In my experience, people respect the fact that you made the effort and had the courage to state your opinion publicly in the newspaper, even if they don’t like it.

One other concern I hear from people is whether their letter will be published. If it meets the criteria in the box published every week on the opinion page, which states our policies for letters, it will be published.

We’re limited in space, but we always try to run the full letter, if possible. If significant cuts are required, we’ll contact you and discuss the situation – which is why it’s necessary to give us a phone number. We generally do not edit letters without consulting with the writer, because it’s your letter, not ours.

Got thoughts? Write us!

Now that we’re in our third year as a monthly community newspaper, there are a lot of things I like about our paper.

But there are things we’re working on doing better, and there’s one that our readers could help us with: letters to the editor.

Why? Because the opinion page of any newspaper, not just this one, should reflect a healthy exchange of ideas, not just those of the editor or publisher.

What I’m talking about differs from a lot of the public discourse we see today: blasts on Facebook or Twitter or otherwise.

I like to read letters to the editor, even in other newspapers. I don’t always agree with a writer, but often I’ll read the letter just to hear their argument.

I like it when people have the guts to put their ideas on paper for posterity – and that really is the case, because that’s what happens when it appears in the newspaper. It won’t be 25 screens down in 10 minutes.  It will be on that page forever.

In my experience, and that includes a stint as an opinion page staffer at a major urban newspaper group, letters to the editor are generally more thoughtful and articulate than much of what I see on social media. Maybe it’s because the writers realize that what they’re submitting may be not only distributed well past their group of Facebook friends, but will also be enshrined for perpetuity.

We are a small newspaper and, as any regular reader knows, we haven’t had a tremendous volume of letters to the editor.

I realize some of that is probably due to the fact that people now find it easier to post their commentary elsewhere. They might consider it safer, too, to rant to their friends rather than present their opinions in a truly public arena.

Then, too, since we also only appear in print monthly, the back-and-forth that sometimes happens on the letters page gets interrupted a bit. But in my experience, not many letters really actually provoke a debate. Most are simply the reader’s opinion on an issue of concern.

That’s important because, as  I’ve already alluded, letters reach a large audience (comparatively), and are read by elected officials and others with influence – who might not be reading Facebook rants. They also add information that may not have been addressed in a news report.

Letters to the editor are among the most-read sections of most newspapers. When I walk through a restaurant or otherwise see people reading nerwspapers, often they have the opinion page open.

Letters can generate discussion as well as influence the direction of public discourse. They can convince readers by using emotions, facts – or some combination of those two, hopefully with an emphasis on the latter. We’re not  interested in publishing rants, but letters that thoughtfully analyze complex issues and events are very welcome.

By writing a letter, citizens can also publicize their involvement in some issue or find others who have similar interests. Letters can also stimulate interest from our reporting staff (we occasionally get a letter that ends up as a news story rather than a letter), and yeah, though that’s also possible with social media, again, the newspaper audience covers many elements of local society and leadership.

I might add that I occasionally hear from people that they’re reluctant to express an opinion, particularly one critical of something going on locally, because they’re concerned about retaliation.

I’ve been involved in newspaper journalism for nearly 35 years and I can’t recall ever hearing about a local letter writer having their house spray-painted or otherwise experiencing any significant blowback, other than an occasional critical response in the letters column.

Though it may have happened infrequently, elsewhere, believe me, if we became aware of serious backlash of any sort to an opinion expressed in a letter in our community, we’d be highly motivated to expose that in a news report.

I certainly encourage writers to  avoid name-calling and flak that isn’t necessary, but sometimes the truth hurts and the fact that it might annoy someone is no reason to wimp out.

In my experience, people respect the fact that you made the effort and had the courage to state your opinion publicly in the newspaper, even if they don’t like it.

One other concern I hear from people is whether their letter will be published. If it meets the criteria in the box published every week on the opinion page, which states our policies for letters, it will be published.

We’re limited in space, but we always try to run the full letter, if possible. If significant cuts are required, we’ll contact you and discuss the situation – which is why it’s necessary to give us a phone number. We generally do not edit letters without consulting with the writer, because it’s your letter, not ours.

Got thoughts? Write us!