A few weeks ago, I sat in on a very cordial meeting with a group of religious leaders to discuss how to get more good news into the newspaper. They wanted to know how best to reach out to us with events they were hosting in hopes we could cover them if warranted.
The conversation shifted to The Daily Item’s opinion page, how we select letters and columns that appear in print and online, and how they are vetted.
To be honest, the process is more difficult than ever.
As the arbiter of The Daily Item’s Opinion Page, I take the duty very seriously. To me, the opinion page is the soul of a newspaper, a window into the feelings of the people that live here.
Of the Letters to the Editor we receive, we probably run 95 out of 100, if not a larger percentage. We are in the business of printing articles, photos, letters to the editor and commentaries, not in the business of not printing things.
And the opinion page is the place for readers to promote their thoughts. We want to promote the Valley’s voices, not limit them.
Obviously, rhetoric on all sides of the political spectrum has increased in this current climate. It has emboldened the fringe more than ever, leading to unnecessary name-calling, unintended (or intended) racism and vitriol, copying-and-pasting content from other outlets (thus eliminating someone’s actual opinion) and flat-out lies.
What I can say for certain is that we spend more time editing letters for content than ever before. There are days I spend hours simply trying to find out if claims made in letters are true or not.
The internet makes it easier. And harder.
Recently I received an entry suggested as a My Turn that included about 10 paragraphs, four of which were copied and pasted from an unnamed blog I was able to track down. In addition to some over-the-top, unconfirmable and bombastic rhetoric, it was mostly unoriginal. It didn’t run.
In some cases, a quick Google search of a claim can verify its veracity or lack thereof in a matter of moments. Unfortunately, with the growth in alternative media outlets, determining the credibility of a site where we track something can lead you down another rabbit hole entirely.
Even after they’ve been edited, safety nets are in place — meaning other editors and the publisher — who might catch something I missed.
We don’t drop letters because they are for one issue or not, against one person or not.
Something important to remember: Just because you don’t agree with a letter doesn’t mean we shouldn’t publish it. In fact, I encourage you to read more of those letters, it never hurts to digest what the other side thinks.
There have been days when I’ve received a phone call with a less-than-friendly voice screaming that they’re tired of our right-leaning opinions. A day or two later a voice will bemoan our left-leaning ideas.
Those are days I know we’re doing it correctly.
Dennis Lyons is on vacation this week. His column will return next week. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.