From time to time, we receive negative feedback for why we “allowed” a letter to the editor to be published in our paper. Usually, that feedback follows the publication of a letter in which the author takes a position out of the ordinary.
While we welcome all feedback—especially negative feedback, because that helps us re-evaluate what we do and why we do it—it is also important that we make clear our decision-making process for letters to the editor.
When it comes to choosing which letters are published and which are not, at no time do we evaluate the philosophical position taken by an author. If we agree or disagree with a position taken is irrelevant to the decision whether or not to publish a letter to the editor. If we predict that a position taken by a letter’s author may be popular or or not has no bearing on the decision.
Put simply, the opinions taken by the author of a letter to the editor in our publication do not impact the likelihood of that letter being published.
The act of publishing a reader’s opinion is not an act of endorsing it, nor is it an act of shedding light on a viewpoint just so it can be refuted in the future.
Rather, the act of publishing opinions—both those we agree with and those we do not—is an act of giving a voice to those who wish to speak. Our responsibility is to protect those voices—especially those that may be perceived as unpopular or controversial—and ensure that there is a free forum for public speech in our newspaper.
If an opinion in a published letter to the editor is built on faulty logic, that is apparent in the reading of the letter, and most often, someone will write a response as a letter to the editor—and that will be published as well.
The same philosophy holds true for the comments published on our website, ElburnHerald.com. Each story and each letter to the editor invites the public to comment, and those comments are published directly below the story or letter in question. Again, we do not evaluate the point of view or point being made when deciding whether or not to allow a comment to be posted.
For both published letters and online comments, what we do evaluate is whether or not a letter attacks someone personally, if it states an incorrect fact, or if it crosses the threshold of libel.
Beyond that, however, letters and comments are a free forum to allow members of the community to share their opinions how they see fit. Unpopular views may be debated, and faulty lines of logic may be countered, but is that not the point of a forum that promotes a free and open exchange of ideas?
God forbid the day when we, or any other media outlet, begins to make publication choices based on the outlet’s agreement or disagreement with the opinion itself.