Yesterday evening I emailed a Letter to the Editor to the local newspaper, the Morrison County Record. I wrote my letter in response to another Letter to the Editor, one written by Brenda Stroh-schein. Here’s a link to her letter.
Here’s my reply:
To the Editor:
A letter in last week’s Record, written by Brenda Stroh-schein, caught my attention. Ms. Stroh-schein says that she and her husband “can’t run to our neighbors (who have more money than we do) and demand they pay for our spending.”
Actually, neighbors help neighbors pay for things all the time — public services like roads, police & fire protection, clean water, sewage systems, nursing homes, parks, schools, the military, etc.
Government is a collective agreement by all citizens to help each other pay for things that not one of us could pay for alone. We chip in on Minnesota’s high quality of life by paying taxes, which should not be considered a dirty word. (Do we think these services should magically appear, like fairies and unicorns?)
Because government is a collective, it is a fallacy to compare its budget to a household budget, although the false analogy makes for a nice sound bite.
I got a call this morning from a Record employee. She said they would publish the letter, but remove Brenda’s name from it. I wasn’t sure why they would want to remove Brenda’s name because I was quoting her letter directly and proper attribution ought to be of the utmost importance to a newspaper, but, okay, fine, run the letter without her name.
A while later I got another call from the employee. She said that Tom West, managing editor for the paper, told her that in order to publish my letter, they would have to remove the entire quote from Brenda.
That’s the Record’s policy. Apparently, no one is ever allowed to respond to another person’s Letter to the Editor by quoting a letter or referring to the person who wrote said letter.
Exactly how does this serve the public? It seems to me that if we are to have proper public discourse that a local newspaper’s editorial page ought to allow editorial writers to respond to each other’s viewpoints directly. If I’m not mistaken, that’s how most newspaper editorial pages work. (If other newspapers have the same policy as the Record, please let me know.)
The Record is very clear that letter writers must supply their full names and addresses in order to have letters published. The paper will publish the full name, but not the contact information. I assumed that making people supply their names meant that they would be held responsible for what they wrote, that those who submitted letters fully expected that readers might not agree with them and could respond in kind. Apparently not. If letter writers are not going to be held accountable for what they’ve written, why bother to ask for a name? The newspaper might as well allow writers to remain anonymous.
My husband and I have had problems like this with the Record before. We have submitted letters critical of local businesses and have been told the Record won’t publish them because those businesses pay for advertising. Any newspaper worth its salt separates the advertising sales department from the news department in order to dampen this conflict of interest.
Further, I have left comments on the Record’s website under various Letters to the Editor only to find they have not been moderated through. There’s no explanation as to why. (I don’t leave trollish comments or use ad hominem attacks.)
We are not the only ones who have had issues with the Record not publishing letters for strangely inane reasons. A friend of mine has started a blog called Record Loss in order to collect these letters.
In the end, I was given a choice to either drop the quote or not have the letter printed. Without the quote, my letter has no context and appears to be coming out of nowhere. The quote has to stay for the letter to make sense. I told the Record employee not to run it.
And now I’ve posted it on my blog, with full credit to the person I quoted, which ought to be a lesson to the Record. In this age of social media, the newspaper is not the only way to get one’s word out.