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Readers ponder letter-writing policies

Richard Somerville, Editor
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Last week, I asked readers whether they thought The Union’s letter policy should be modified. As the new editor in town, I talked to several people in my first weeks who said the newspaper should raise the level of discourse on the opinion page. Editors, though, love having lots of letters; it’s a sign of a vigorous civic life. I wondered what other readers thought, so I threw out some possible options and invited comment. Suggested options were:

1. Continue length rules. Run all letters that meet the requirement, scurrilous content and all. Dump the ones that don’t.

2. Continue length rules, but select and judiciously edit them for variety, clarity and civility, and run as many as possible.



3. Waive length rules, with letters subject to editing for length and clarity, if necessary, to use as many as possible.

4. Waive all rules, but be highly selective and only publish the most well-written and relevant letters.




Early reaction favors Option 1, although there are variations of view. Following are typical perspectives (edited, I should warn, for space reasons).

Don’t tread on me

“Editing a writer’s letter to the editor is the equivalent to censoring what your readers read,” said one reader. Another wrote, “None of us would appreciate our thoughts and comments being edited.” In truth, of course, everything printed or broadcast is “edited” in some way. True censorship is the suppression of information by government power, the opposition to which is a core principle of journalism.

Let’s you and him fight

“Keep those right-wing rants coming,” said one reader. “They’re a lot more fun than the comics page.” Another commented: “I should hear from the extremists, wackos and nutcases, as they, too, are part of our community.” “Let crassness shine through,” pleaded one reader, while another wrote that “letters with ‘scurrilous content’ seem to be a fact of life in this county.”

A vast conspiracy

One man said that, in gazing at my photo, he deduced that “you plan to axe the most extreme points of view and leave the letters page just as boring as the rest of The Union.” Another said “there are always suspicions on both sides as to the political leanings of The Union. By editing letters, you increase these suspicions.”

Muddle in the middle

“Allowing only moderate views is a chilling thought … and it doesn’t represent a lot of this community,” a man wrote. Said another: “I don’t want to read only the ‘most well-written and relevant letters’ – could be pretty boring!” Actually, the idea was to be more inclusive rather than more restrictive.

We’re unique

The fact that most newspapers edit letters did not cut any muster with some folks. “What is good for someplace else is not necessarily good for Nevada County,” wrote one man.

A woman said about surveying the practices of other communities: “We have ideas from every viewpoint, and this makes our community special and interesting.”

Another woman said the community is used to the Opinion page being its forum, “and it should remain so.” I couldn’t agree more.

True colors

Many feel “warts-and-all publishing” provides a community service. One reader recommended that misspellings and bad grammar be kept intact to permit “a sense of who the writer is as a person.” Another man added, “At least we will know what the writer really said, even if sometimes we can’t discern what they mean.”

Next week, more points of view on letters to the editor.

Richard Somerville is the editor of The Union. His column appears on Saturdays.


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