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Show a little respect
July 30, 2011 - Brad Siddons
On my very first day at The Sentinel, the managing editor (Linda Duffield at the time, if anyone remembers that far back) sat me down at an old-fashioned steel desk with an old-fashioned full-sized Underwood MANUAL typewriter. My very first task? To transcribe the Open Line. Aaaarrrggghhh!
Yes, there is no love lost between me and the few paragraphs that appear at the bottom right of our Opinion page most days. I believe Opinion is the heart of the newspaper, and our heart beats smoother on those rare days when there are no Open Line comments. Why? Quite simply, it comes down to credibility. Comments without the writer's name have no credibility, and thus, no importance. If you have something worthwhile to say, put your name at the bottom and we'll consider printing it as a letter to the editor. That doesn't mean we'll print EVERYTHING. There are libel considerations, of course, as well as other things we have to worry about. Suffice it to say that we do print most letters by far, and with relatively few changes. In other words, when you have the courage to put your name on a letter, we try to print what you send us. And now I will finally get around to the point:
While I cherish letters to the editor, and I truly do, I am not wild about the format in which more and more of them are arriving at my desk.
Again, before I talk about that recent change, please allow me to digress. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.
Let's go back to the opening paragraph. Way back then, in the late 1970s, letters to the editor came to this office in one of two ways: The U.S. Mail, or The Shoe-leather Express. Since then, the Digital Age has changed all that, in many ways for the better. Many, but not all.
Email has been with us for quite a while, and this is now my favorite way to receive letters. Whether they come slipped into the body of the email or added as an attachment, they usually translate well. We don't have to type them, which means less room for error, and less time needed to get them on the page. Readers also now use the Virtual Newsroom, which also has also made delivery and publication of letters generally easier. Win-win.
But not always, and the problem stems from another techno-marvel that has changed many lives in profound and permanent ways: The cell phone. Oh, I'm as firmly glued to my cell as anyone, but I don't write letters on the darn thing. Yes, therein lies the rub.
This isn't a big problem yet, but I've had to send a few letters back to their authors asking that they clean them up on a real computer and resubmit as a properly written letter. Heck, if they want to print them and send them via snail mail, that's fine with me. So far, I haven't received any reruns in any format.
Letters written on cells are usually easy to spot. Like many text messages, they tend to be written without regard to punctuation, capitalization, spelling and grammar. As you might expect, this worries me. The American version of the English language must be treated with care and respect. And I hope that all writers of letters to the editor will take that to heart.
Well, is that egg on my face? It should be. In this blog, i which I chastised writers for being sloppy sometimes, I made my own blooper -- "letters to the letter" -- shame on me, and thanks to the reader who caught the mistake. I guess it just goes to show that we all are human and we ALL make mistakes.
I'll try to improve on that.
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