Letters an indicater of a paper’s health
By: Bob Sloan
A wise old newspaper scribe with ink running through his veins once told me if you want to check the pulse of a newspaper, look no further than its Opinion/Editorial page. If you find letters to the editor on a regular basis, it’s a sure sign of a vital, active publication.
Letters to the editor mean the paper is being read. It means readers are connecting with the paper. It means they see it as a platform to share their view on things and to let their voice be heard.
You’ll notice just below this column there are two letters printed in today’s edition. One is from an individual who is upset with what he sees as aggravating television commercials. The other is from an organization in support of a Korean War Wall of Remembrance in Washington D.C. These letters show that the individual and the organization both saw The News Journal as a viable and legitimate means to share what they had to say with others.
We hope more people will take advantage of The News Journal’s Letters to the Editor section. Not only do we welcome them, we encourage them.
We know that when you’re upset about something or a particular subject concerns you, it’s so very easy to press a few buttons and post something on Facebook. Get something off your chest. Blow off a little steam. Everybody does it. Sadly, in some ways social media platforms have taken the place of writing letters to the editor.
I, for one, would contend, that a letter to the editor will garner more attention and be considered worthy of more merit and value than a social media post. I can offer several reasons.
There are few ethical rules enforced on social media sites. Any upset yahoo can post libelous and slanderous stuff. Foul language is not a problem. In fact, it’s so common that if there are no four-letter words in a post it is somewhat shocking. There are some posts that simply make rational sense.
With letters, there are certain guidelines and criteria that are enforced to ensure that a person’s opinion is expressed in a respectful manner, that it is readable, that it does not go on and on, and that it is not libelous or malicious. The Letter to the Editor policy published on this page is where you will find this paper’s criteria and guidelines.
A quick glance at News Journal editorial pages from the last 18 months revealed some encouraging signs. There were 11 letters and seven guest columns published in our paper during 2018. Not great, but not too shabby either. Thus far in 2019, we have published 17 letters. That’s the good news. The bad news is there have been no guest columns written.
Please, keep those letters coming and please consider writing a guest column. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Now I want to share a couple of letters to the editor memories that come to mind. It was sometime in the mid-80s that my name first appeared in print. It was a letter to the editor in The Daily-Press/Times-Herald of Hampton, Va. I penned five paragraphs or so on the need for a bike path on Big Bethel Road near Thomas Nelson Community College. Seeing my name in the paper for the first time was quite exciting. It took a while, but the bike path was constructed. I like to think my letter may have had a little something to do with that.
The best letter to the editor I have had the privilege to publish in my close to 30 years in the business was while serving as editor of The Cheraw Chronicle and Chesterfield Advertiser. A young girl of elementary school age wrote a letter that took the local car dealership to task for flying a torn and tattered American flag. I remember she used the word “disgraceful.”
The letter caught the attention of many in the community and it wasn’t long before the dealership lowered its old Old Glory and raised a new one. That little girl and her letter proved to me once again that there is power in the pen.
Her words made a difference. Yours can as well.