Report to Readers: Would you publish these letters to the editor?
I got to spend a fun morning with seniors today. They were participating in a lecture series on the art and history of letter-writing, organized by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. My job was to talk about letters to the editor. Fun topic! Fun crowd!
I brought with me a few letters that had given me pause and asked members of the group whether they would have published them. In four of the five cases, the majority seemed to agree with the decision the Monitor had come to.
Would you publish a letter accusing elected officials in Franklin of wrongdoing? Yes, but only after some fact-checking.
Would you publish a fun letter singing the praises of the sushi chefs at the Moritomo restaurant in Fort Eddy Road? No, too commercial.
Would you publish a letter grousing about the greedy Christmas wish list published by the Monitor and written by a second-grader from Hillsboro-Deering Elementary? No, too personal and too mean.
How about a letter from a mother begging for help for her daughter who was being bullied at school? No, it might make matters worse for the daughter. But it was worth a call to the writer to suggest some other options for assistance.
The fifth letter was one that caused a major public outcry several years back. The writer was Allison Caldwell of Pembroke, who described how much he dislikes seeing the big Chanukah menorah outside the State House each year. He attempted a First Amendment argument but also couched it in outrageous anti-Semitism. Was the letter beyond the pale? Many people in the audience this morning thought so, but it is a letter we published. I argued at the time that letting the community know about the presence of such a writer every now and then is probably a decent role for the local newspaper, even if such words are painful to read. I’ve rethought that episode countless times but still think publishing was better than not publishing.
The most interesting question from the audience was a simple one: If I write a letter to the editor, do you think the people it’s aimed at will actually read it? In other words, will it make a difference?
My proof isn’t scientific, of course, but in recent months it sure seems like letters about the perceived excesses of the previous Legislature made a difference. And these days letters about redesigning Main Street appear to grab the attention of the mayor and city council. Add to that the number of readers who tell me that the letters are the first thing they read in the paper – regardless of what’s on the front page, alas – and I think the answer is yes.