As with every election season, our mailbags were heavy with islanders writing in to give their voice on candidates, propositions, and levies on the ballot. Now that the election has passed, and letters to the editor have slowed down, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain and clarify our policies.
Providing an avenue for people to give their opinions is one of the valuable aspects of a newspaper and part of how democracy works. Struggling newspapers across the nation have either discontinued opinion sections altogether or significantly cut them back because they do not have the staff to process the letters, or the space to publish them.
Without a venue for public opinion and for citizens to air grievances, democracy falters because the beautiful yet difficult thing about “for the people, by the people” is that it relies on the engagement of the people.
That said, we ask you to keep a few things in mind. Opinion pieces, not just letters, but guest columns as well, are exactly that – opinions. As opinions, they are not endorsed by the newspaper. We do our best to fact-check, but we are human and, therefore, fallible.
Further, we have limited space to print opinion pieces. Letters are limited to 350 words, and guest columns to 500. We also limit both letters and guest columns to two a month, per individual, even if the person’s name is on a group letter. This policy ensures everyone who wants to write to us has the opportunity to see their words in print.
To ensure the twice-per-month policy is being followed, we try not to publish letters from the same person in back-to-back issues, even if the subject is different. It’s more difficult to remember who has written each month, but we usually can remember who submitted letters the previous week. When we receive an abundance of letters, like during an election, even that can be difficult, but we do our best and are trying to come up with efficient methods to stick to our policies. Again, it’s important to us that everyone who wishes to offer an opinion has the opportunity, and we encourage a variety of perspectives.
I love hearing what community members have to say, reading different perspectives. Our readers have often made me rethink my own ideas, and I’ve learned from the variety of experts we have living among us.
Occasionally when people become emotionally engaged, letter writing can lead to mudslinging or personal and accusatory. Please refrain from personal attacks. There is an old saying that when the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. The reasoning goes that if all you have left are insults, you no longer have an argument. This election season, despite the fact some issues on the ballot were clearly controversial, the letters were generally polite and civil. Thank you for your civility.
After all, the point of opinion pieces is to engage, grow and learn. None of that occurs if we are not civil with one another. Besides, we are too small a community not to be courteous.