Editor Wants Help Setting Policy For Letter Writers

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I need some help, folks, figuring out to what to do with your letters to the editor page. I’ve been having a great time, reading the letters, eavesdropping, baiting bears. But I’m also a little unsure whether you’re all having as much fun as I am absorbing the wild diversity and sometimes unsettling intensity of Rim Country letter writers.

Oddly enough, the letters that do make me squirm mostly have nothing to do with Rim Country. They’re generally letters written by an enthusiastic core of true believers unleashing salvos about things like gun control, creationism, the definitions of “socialist” and “religion.”

Certainly, those all make for interesting topics. But comments on the outside world generally go to the back of the line behind observations about local events. And I hardly ever run letters from people who don’t live in Rim Country — unless they’re commenting on local events in an interesting way. I figure our letters page is like the town square, where people can gather to talk things out — maybe even vent. Both this letters page and the blog attached to our Web site feature a wonderful range of viewpoints and opinions — just the sort of thing that defines a diverse, healthy, vigorous community.

Still, some rules would seem reasonable.

For starters, I don’t think it contributes much to the conversation when things degenerate into name-calling. Granted, bar fights can be pretty darn entertaining. But this probably isn’t the place for it. So, we reserve the right to not run a letter that makes disagreements personal — or stoops to name-calling for the sake of getting a rise. In that case, I’ll try to send such letters back with suggestions — since it often comes down to one or two sentences. Of course, reasonable people might disagree as to what constitutes name-calling — but I guess we can hash that one out.

I’m also inclined to think we ought to limit the back-and-forth to a couple of rounds. For instance, every time we run a letter taking any position at all on gun control — it provokes a flurry of responses. The bulk of the replies come from a small group of repeat opinionators on each side. I’m thinking that a letter and then a response (and maybe a response to the response) seems fair enough. I also figure that if we’ve got a couple of letters making the same point — we may just use the one or two from people we haven’t printed previously.

Now, I have to admit that I sometimes get twitchy wanting to make some point in response. I yielded to the temptation recently when the amiable and determined Pete Greer wrote a letter about Creationism. I just couldn’t stop myself — and stuck an editor’s note on the end. So naturally enough, he responded to my response — and off we go. Guess I’ve got to apply my back-and-forth rule to my own self, which is irritating, but there it is. In fact, I shall restrain myself as best I can on general principles — unless an editor’s note seems necessary to correct misstated facts or answer a question posed by a letter.

So what do you think?

How do those rules strike you, seeing as how it’s your page?

Or do you favor some alternate rules?

Should we not run letters about non-local topics at all?

Should we limit people to one letter a month?

Should we run even the strange and bizarre tirades?

I’m writing this in hopes you’ll take a moment to give me some feedback. Just send your thoughts to editor@payson.com. We’ll print some — but mostly I’m just trying to get a feel for what you think of how we’ve been doing in picking the letters.

Tell me what you think. I really want to know. Honest.

Just remember that “no name-calling” rule.

I’m sensitive; just ask the publisher.

Comments

Ted Paulk 11 months, 1 week ago

No surprise that I'm one of the first to respond to your request. Having said that: yesterday on CNN I saw a man responding to the "study" that immigrants have lower IQ's than citizens in the USA, and will continue the trend for generations to come. This man made a comment I'd heard before that makes a lot of sense, "You are entiltiled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts". I would love to stop responding to the inflammatory letters that appear in the Roundup, and it would make my wife very happy too, but when someone states that the Prez is a Muslim, communist, socialist, Kenyan, and is trying to take all our guns, and take over the country, then compares him to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and any other villian from the past etc., etc., ad finitum, I can't help myself. I have suggested in the past to you, the editor, and the editors before you, please stop printing outright and obvious lies submitted by extremists and haters. I'm sure the usual suspects will appear quickly, posting more denigrating comments about me for speaking out...and so on it goes. Ted Paulk against

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Travis Livengood 11 months ago

Quit acting like a victim. You antagonize people and are very disrespectful. Don't like it? Then display some class and show people some respect.

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frederick franz 11 months, 1 week ago

I enjoy reading the blogs in the forum. I don't mind emotional language, but dislike name calling. I believe that the limits you set are quite reasonable and fair. Keep up the good work so we can all enjoy the forums.

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Kim Chittick 11 months, 1 week ago

Thank you Mr. Naughton for your thoughtful, insightful, detailed and public query.

I shall address your questions in the order in which they were asked.

"How do those rules strike you, seeing as how it’s your page?" For the most part, I agree with them. I don't care for name calling. It is hurtful and unproductive. One that I don't agree with is the limit of one or two responses per issue. I personally love the lively, thoughtful and passionate responses; and I truly enjoy the lengthy debates

"Or do you favor some alternate rules?" Hmmmm, perhaps one should be required to submit a mental health evaluation prior to being permitted to post? (Ooops, sorry, a bit of levity there!!!) I am not fond of a lot of stultifying rules. Be nice. Be polite. Be respectful, and NO bullying.

"Should we not run letters about non-local topics at all?" I REALLY do not like this one! Payson is part of a much larger world and most of us are interested in that world; and should be able to discuss world issues.

"Should we limit people to one letter a month?" I thought that rule was in place at one time?

"Should we run even the strange and bizarre tirades? Absolutely!!!

In summation, if I remember correctly, at one time, there were rules in place which essentially boiled down to: Be nice. Be polite. No name calling. No cursing. Attack the issue, not the writer. You get the idea. In essence, follow the golden rule. Do unto others.

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jeff durbin 11 months, 1 week ago

It seems our Editor needs to publish articles to keep people happy and sell advertisements for a dying community. The Editor no longer needs any big thoughts or fancy words, for the public education system removed that burden. Let’s not investigate deep and time consuming stories, or stories that will leave any legacy, or change lives, make differences, but continuing print the exciting news of Rim County.

Let’s avoid any controversy about guns, creation, religion, economy or the President, for those concepts are too hard for us to comprehend and the majority likes to pretend they don’t exist. No more bad or politically incorrect terms, like calling a fetus a baby or the President a Leftist. The Editor needs a policy to avoid any subject deemed unworthy and should censor any one or any subject deemed irresponsible. Maybe the term “policy” is too weak, maybe “law” would be better.

The Roundup is no longer a “newspaper” but a hard-printed social media production aimed at the public for intended for the ignorant, while exploiting the advertisers. I hope the Roundup’s publisher looks at the digression of the content and the loss of subscribers in evaluating this new policy. Currently, I haven’t kept one Roundup in the last ten years more than 5 minutes; half of that time is in the classifieds. There was a time when the paper was good. Good enough to hold on to and show others.
Jeff Durbin

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Pete Greer 11 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Aleshire, I am all in favor of promoting civility and respect in the letters and blogs. My main concern is a result of the back and forth mentioned in the article between myself and you. I expressed a different opinion than one stated in the editorial on SB1213 which elicited a response and, like you said, there we went. The concern is from the fact that your comments were attached to the letter I wrote while my response to the comments was delayed by up to 4 weeks until you had time to comment on my comments. I do know the tremendous responsibilities of the editor and I have done my best to be respectful of the editor's time, but in fairness, I think it would be proper to print my response in a timely fashion if your schedule prevents a quick response. It appears you are on the right track in your suggestion for some self restraint in these matters and perhaps you have arrived at that conclusion for the very reasons I have stated. On the other hand, my problem is one of space. How can I respond to the monthly evolution education we are given wrapped in articles on the petrified forest of Arizona and fishing at Bear Flats and many others (over half of the content promotes evolutionary dogma) in the small letter that we are allowed? I am thankful for the blog where I can give longer responses but I don't know the percentage of readers that go there. I would be surprised if it was 1 in 3. Is there any data on that? That is my 2 cents worth. I don't know if I helped clarify any issues but perhaps this perspective will help in the policy evaluation.

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Nancy Volz 11 months, 1 week ago

My thoughts on your thoughts... Good idea about sending the "name calling" letters back to the writers. If they wish to resubmit, they can. (Do the same with the ones not based on fact, if you can. A sticky point, I know.) Many letters (and posts) seem to ramble on a bit. If you have several letters come in making the same point, why not edit them and print the comments actually pertinent to the point and run them all consecutively? You would save space for other letters and hopefully pacify the letter writers with the same point of view. Speaking to that - why don't you edit the letters you receive anyway as it your right as Editor? The back and forth - "strange and bizarre tirades" - that really is a source of constant amusement for me. Don't mind it, except that it leaves less space for other topics. If you quit running letters that pertain to national issues, how can you continue to publish op-ed cartoons on national topics, for example? By not publishing certain topics, you digress in to a form of censorship. Unless you make that a clear policy, I suppose. I would prefer you do not limit folks to one letter per month, as long as the letters follow your policy. Most people are just sick and tired of the bashing, name calling, etc. and want some actual thoughtful discourse.

My final thought - I don't know how your Publisher feels about all of this, but, IMO, I hope he steps up also.

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robbin flowers 11 months ago

I have a few thoughts. In my business I really like PAR notes. 1.) Problem 2.) Action required to fix the problem, and 3.) Responsible Person. I love the KISS acronym. But, that is a real challenge for me personally.

Is there any way to create a space that only high level geeks can access? The kind of geeks that love astral-physics and want to go on a adventure to slay a dragon named odorous? Kind of like a RPG for totally geeks?

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don evans 10 months, 4 weeks ago

My 2 cents...I think your current policy guidelines for printing letters to the editor is pretty well thought out and works. I see no need to tweak anything. The letters you print for the most part, are well written by the authors. If your editorial review finds a letter to be to offensive, you don't publish it. Frankly, I enjoy some of the banter between authors of different values and ideologies on any given topic local or national. I suspect your topic question on this matter is a result of some individuals who have contacted your paper upset with published points of view they don't like or ascribe to. But their letters are just fine and should be published. LOL! When I read letters to the editor, I'm not looking for some ivory tower elitist academic discourse. I want to hear from the average Jane and John Does. My opinion is you are doing good job in providing the common man and woman letters to the editor with a balanced and fair approach. For those who do not think they are not given enough word space for a letter, using this particular "comment reply" format does not seem to have a limit? Perhaps the paper should do an article that again explains your letter policy, word limits, use of the Roundup Blog, and the use of the seemingly no word limit "Reply to Letter Comments" that we are using here now. It all works for me.

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