Our opinion page: Forum for vigorous debate | PostIndependent.com

Our opinion page: Forum for vigorous debate

Randy Essex
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Letters to the Post Independent continue to flow in at an impressive rate, which is great for the PI and the community.

In addition to two or three letters a day on a normal opinion page, we typically print one full page of letters a week and sometimes two, working to publish as many reader opinions as we can. Of course we — and by “we” I primarily mean “me,” because I am the editorial page staff — face occasional criticism over what we print and what we don’t.

That’s OK. It comes with the territory. I learned long ago in the news business that if you aren’t honking some readers off, you probably aren’t publishing enough interesting material. On the editorial page, if we aren’t stimulating debate, we aren’t doing our job.

The fact is that about 90 percent of letters written by residents of Garfield County are being published. When I arrived in May, we sometimes didn’t have enough letters to print even two a day, which is what we had room for under the standard opinion page template. We are printing 20 to 25 letters a week now and receiving more than that.

Thank-you notes (which are supposed to be 150 words or shorter) are published elsewhere in the paper.

Some readers have noted that we aren’t tightly observing the 350-word limit we print on the editorial page daily. It’s true. I haven’t rejected a letter just for length for a few months. I would like people to observe that limit so more voices can be heard — and because readers are more likely to actually read a shorter letter.

Some longer submissions run as guest opinions, and some letters in the 400- to 500-word range run when we publish full pages of letters. We also change the opinion page format now and then, with a shorter column, guest opinion or editorial, which enables us to squeeze in another letter.

We are running ever fewer syndicated columns and ever more local voices.

When I — and I’m not going to hide behind the editorial “we” here; it’s me making these decisions — don’t run a letter, it’s because it is over the top mean-spirited, false or repetitive. (Even though many bridge letters are repetitive, I’m trying to get all of those in.)

Sometimes, I don’t get to a letter in time, and events make it outdated. I’ve apologized to a couple of people whose letters weren’t published because of that. We are a tiny staff and I am one person — just as Jon Mitchell is a one-man sports staff and Jessica Cabe is our only entertainment staffer. We aren’t going to be able to get to everything, and sometimes other duties and the volume of letters causes me to overlook the time element in one.

We are getting so many letters from county residents that I rarely run letters from people outside Garfield County.

Typically, when I reject a letter because of meanness or inaccuracy, I send the writer an email explaining my thoughts. These notes, not surprisingly, have led to some harsh responses. There’s not a formula for those decisions, and I am willing to discuss them. Some editors would not. Ultimately, though, these are editing decisions, and that’s my job.

We’ve recently had a few letters harshly critical of conservative columnist Ross Talbott. He’s part of the continuum of commentary in our columns, from left to right, and I’m not going to cancel his column because some readers don’t like it any more than I am going to censor my own view that CDOT and the city need to find a way to improve pedestrian crossings of Grand Avenue. Our columns and editorials should provoke, stimulate, agitate and poke. A high calling of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

We want a vigorous, civil discussion on our opinion page. I have both liberals and conservatives and maybe a couple bureaucrats upset with me right now, which typically is a decent barometer of being balanced.

Keep those letters coming. Use email — we don’t have a typist, and it is the 21st century — capitalize proper nouns but only proper nouns and, for goodness’ sakes, don’t use two spaces after a period.

Randy Essex is editor of the Post Independent. He can be reached at ressex@postindependent.com.


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