At your service
In St. John’s, a neophyte union leader is lamenting that his letter chastising a newspaper columnist didn’t get the prominence he thought it should. In Charlottetown, a bar owner is lighting up social media with her complaints about newspaper coverage in that city, while people on her newsfeed suggest she should write the newspaper to outline her concerns. Just another day in the newspaper business. But something else as well: a recognition of the value of a feature unique to newspapers and their digital websites. Unlike many other media sites, newspapers have always had a space for people to respond; a place where you can put your opinions on our pages. It’s simple, cheap and fast: have a look at the newspaper’s guidelines for letters to the editor, and you can have free and prompt access to all the readers we have.
Some people might think that we don’t like letters to the editor — well, they’d be wrong. Certainly, any letter that questions the skill and competence of reporters or editors can sting. But the value of back-and-forth discussion of issues clearly outweighs that sting.
Besides, there is a particular symmetry in being able to present your concerns about a media article in the same place that the original and offending article appeared. Your concern is put in front of the same eyes, and reaches the same people who read the original piece.
A good letter — pithy, funny and well-written — brings a smile to the faces of editorial page editors everywhere. The editors who choose which letters to run are already people who love words, who love a good, cleanly made argument, who love the necessary debate that goes into truly public-made public policy. The other thing that editorial page editors love more than anything else? A cleanly written letter that can get into the paper with the least amount of editing possible. Why? Because editors are human, too; they’re not part of a nefarious system designed to twist and censor letter-writers’ opinions.
No, the editors are just normal people who like to get their jobs done well, have something interesting and new to present to readers, and still be home in time for dinner.
Letters will always have to be edited. We work on spelling and grammar, watch for language usage that is pejorative enough that it could be grounds for a libel action, and do our best to make sure that your argument is clearly presented. (Sometimes, though, if an issue has been chewed so much that a letter will be repetitive, we might move on to newer, fresher topics.)
Think of it this way: a letter to the editor is a service no one else offers. Free and prominent space in the paper, free editing services, free headline-writing.
Our gift to you.