From time to time, I’d like to use this valuable column space to discuss issues and policies that readers often ask me about. If a few readers have the same question, it stands to reason that others are curious as well. It’s another attempt to make the newspaper “transparent,” so we all are on the same page, so to speak.
Now that the election is past, it’s a good time to discuss letters to the editor and our online comments. You may or may not know that most newspapers do not print anywhere near every letter they receive. Letters at most papers are selected on their newsworthiness and point of view.
At The Union, we strive to print all letters that fall within our word limits that are not libelous or engage in mean-spirited name-calling. Since many fall into the unprintable or objectionable category, this is a time-consuming task. Length is 200 words for regular letters and 100 words for “kudos” letters. During this past election, the volume was such that we couldn’t print them all before Tuesday’s election.
An argument can be made that there is little point in running 300 letters all endorsing the same candidate. On the other hand, in this smaller community, we often know the letter writer, making the opinion more interesting.
We try to be fair and we try our best to print every letter. We are working on a plan to ensure that all letters either will be in the print edition or online. We’re lucky that we live in a place where readers are so engaged in the ideas and issues that shape our community. Lots of newspapers don’t have this “problem.”
We also try to limit letters to one per month per person. This allows more room for varied opinions.
All letters must be signed (and we verify by telephone – a task our editorial coordinator Janet Lee does very well). That is not the case for our Web postings when readers comment online.
Why the discrepancy? The Internet is an entirely different medium – and they’re not really parallel.
Lots on the Internet is anonymous; that’s part of its appeal. People are much more likely to be candid when they don’t fear repercussions from people who don’t share their opinions. Our comments online are broad and far-reaching, covering topics that appear in the daily paper as well as debates on religion and politics. Reading them feels kind of like eavesdropping at a raucous dinner party.
But should they be signed to be more accountable, like our letters in print are? It’s frustrating when people are “bashed” online and don’t know who their accuser is. What some critics see as “candid” comments could also be viewed as mean-spirited and cruel. We are looking into whether it is fair to have anonymous comments online and signed comments in print, but give us time to sort out this complex issue.
Currently all online comments are vetted by an editor. While this can be a tedious and time-consuming process, it prevents profanity and vicious attacks on individuals.
If we were to verify all postings, it would mean somehow checking and verifying names in “real time,” which would slow down the whole posting process.
Oh, and by the way, we have your IP address when you post, so we know who you are.
I think there is room for both ways to express your opinion – or try to sway the opinions of others. If you feel strongly about something and want others in the community to know it, write us a letter to the editor. If you want to comment anonymously, do it online.
Also, online comments can be signed. I’m noticing more and more people putting their name at the bottom of the postings. That’s yet another way to go.
The bottom line is, we want to hear from our readers and we care about your ideas and opinions. But we also want you to understand why we have the policies we do. How you interact with us is your choice.
Dixie Redfearn can be reached at 477-4238 or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at 477-4292.
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