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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.