Your letters on Letters to the Editor

February 03, 2006 12:00 am
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No letters equals disappointment

To the editor:

Does the Baker City Herald really get as few letters as are printed? Steve Culley is right. There should be more letters to the editor and word limits should be flexible. Some opinions, especially those backed by research and quoted sources, need to be allowed a little more space. Most of the time I skim your front page, check the weather, turn to the editorial page, and then the comics. I am always disappointed when there are no letters, no matter what the subject. It is interesting to read what other people feel strongly enough about to actually write a letter.

This is an election year, so politics will be much thought about; this in addition to all the other concerns of people. I hope political news will be printed on the page facing the editorial page, and that the debates about bills, the votes on legislation, bill numbers and where to track them, sponsors, committees and other pertinent information be included when possible. We need more news about state and local politics. Mr. Culley's view of "religious" letters poses a problem. There is such a mixture of politics and religion that it will take an editor with the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of Richard the Lionheart to edit properly. Good luck!

Please print more letters.

Miriam Aschim

Unity

Not a chat room

To the editor:

I would like to respond to the letter by Steve Culley. He was very articulate and had some good ideas, such as:

o If you have enough letters to be published, it would be nice to have Letters every day.

o Thank-you notes and religious opinions should be in a separate area

o I would love to see a "bill watch" section on both federal and state legislators.

I cannot go along with publishing letters from a person more than once every 30 days. What I see in that is it would be like a chat room (one person's opinion would generate another person's opposite view ... and then the first person responding in defense and then the second person arguing, etc.) ... it could get out of hand.

As far as the issue of longer letters — I notice the Oregonian has 150 words per letter. I feel you policy of 350 words is ample. I probably would not read letters of greater length.

I love Ron Chaney's letters. Steve Culley would beat a dead horse with his letters on immigration.

Janis Burgderfer

Baker CIty

Run more letters

To the editor:

The letters to the editor is one of the most popular features in many newspapers. It is often the first section to which I turn. I enthusiastically support the views expressed by Steve Culley in the BCH, January 24, 2006. As the Herald often appears with no letters at all it seems ludicrous to limit the frequency of submissions. If space were to become a problem then the length of letters should be an editorial consideration. I also believe that legitimate criticism of local business should not be restricted. However, I do have a caution for Mr. Culley. Completely unfettered free speech often means that everyone is going to get to listen to, or read, a lot of bull droppings.

Richard Nase

Baker City

Improving our local paper

To the editor:

This is in response to your request for ideas for a tune-up of your editorial page which resulted from a recent letter from Mr. Steve Culley. I am pleased that you published his letter and that you are looking seriously for ways in which to improve the usefulness of your paper. I don't disagree with any of Mr. Culley's suggestions, and will add another thought or two that would make your paper more valuable to me.

I believe it is reasonable to limit the length of letters, not necessarily to 350 words, but the frequency of publishing an author's letters should be governed only by the competition for space. If space is a limiting factor, the size of cartoons and the disclaimer could be reduced or eliminated when letters require the space.

Political activities ultimately control our lives and how we live them. However, there is no way for the rank and file who read your paper to track what their elected officials are doing to help or to harm them. An unbiased section added to your paper that highlights what the County Court, Salem and Washington are doing, and when our elected officials are to visit, would be of great value. Activities of the County Court should be of interest to the majority of your readers.

The changes that you have made to highlight local people and activities on the front and back pages are a welcome improvement. These changes indicate that the Baker City Herald is really a local paper.

Thank you for considering these and other suggestions for improving OUR local paper.

Jasper H. Coombes

Richland

Food for thought — or indigestion?

To the editor:

I will probably hate myself for "getting involved" due to the inevitable "foam at the mouth" backlash that having an opinion generates, but here goes:

I very much enjoyed reading Steve Culley's letter in the Jan. 24 edition of the Herald. He brings up some valid points, and I do agree with many of them.

It seems to me that limiting letters to 350 words might be a mistake; some topics simply can't be described in so few words. It would be well to encourage writers to make it "short and sweet," but sometimes vivid details prevent brevity, and some writers are "wordier" than others.

I am wondering why writers can't complain about businesses in a letter to the Editor. Is this an arbitrary policy of the Herald, or are there legal reasons? Obviously it would be better to address complaints directly to the business, but if there is no response, then a letter to the Editor might help get results. After all, there is a reason those consumer advocate spots on the news and radio are so popular: they get a response!

I absolutely agree that religious letters need to stay in the religion section. I resent people telling me what to believe as far as religion goes; it's arrogant, offensive and rude behavior. I'd much rather see two pages of letters to the Editor than one page of Religion.

I love the idea of a "bill watch." A thumbnail sketch of what our politicians are up to is practically a must these days. We should also have a section for local issues as well. What decisions are being made by the City Manager? What ordinances are being considered? Which City Council member might be facing a "conflict of interest" issue? I also think a column written by local law enforcement would be useful; they could provide tips on preventing crime, advice on how to legally deal with roaming animals, tips on handling neighbor disputes, and constructive ways of reporting incidences, and provide profiles of the local officers and what they do. In other words, bring law enforcement closer to the community, but do it in a lively, friendly way. And of course, reminding readers of upcoming visits from politicians would make sense, especially if the reminders are repeated! One notice is just not sufficient.

Regarding the Letters disclaimer: I believe writers should be able to write in more than once a month. I'd like to see three times, myself, BUT I'd put limits on the "beating a dead horse" syndrome. And I would absolutely require writers to stick to the issues and forbid the insulting of writers for whom there is a disagreement. Personal attacks serve no purpose but to make any situation or dispute worse. I would enforce good manners, which would be a wonderful exercise in self-restraint for many of the writers. It would be a real treat to have the Herald be known for its intelligent, informed, courteous — but opinionated — letter writers.

I would also encourage students to write in. Kids are forever saying that adults won't listen, so let's let them have their say — not just to adults, but their peers as well. Who knows? Such letters might be a valuable wake-up call to some oblivious parents out there.

On a side note, I'd like to praise your paper for seeking out "regular folks" and profiling them. Everybody has a story, and it's to your credit that you are willing to find the storytellers and let 'em rip.

Conversely, I believe the paper needs to be more of a social "watchdog" for the community. I'd like to see more "backstory" on the police log; was the guy arrested for drunk driving a repeat offender? Why did the teen decide to write graffiti? And most of all, how on Earth can owners of dogs that bite, menace and roam try to justify themselves to the rest of us who have to put up with their rotten dogs and the piles of poop all over town? I'd really love to see a series on the "bad dog" problem in this town. We hear of dog issues on practically a daily basis from folks around town, and yet there is no mention of this plague in the paper. I wonder why. It would be mighty interesting to tally up how many animal calls the police get, and go from there.

I'm done now. You wanted opinions, and here are mine. I hope they give food for thought, not indigestion.

Lynn Johnston

Baker City

A sounding board

To the editor:

In regards to Mr. Culley's article on letter reform:

I too would like to see some changes made in this section, although maybe not as much as Steve indicated.

In a nutshell, I'd leave the letters column much the same as it is. Keeping it a mostly local activity sounding board, i.e. Dielman versus city council, wolves versus ranchers, etc.

I would, however, drop the frequency limitation because I believe this section needs to unfold as close to "real time" as possible, for the sake of swaying public opinion and support.

I would leave the word limitation in place which would allow more room for conflicting responses.

The biggest change I would make would be to allow local writers access to the longer editorial format. I know firsthand how hard it is to comment on a complicated issue with the 350-word restriction.

I would keep the 30-day restriction, however, which would give more writers and more views the opportunity to surface.

Editorials tend to deal with bigger national issues which require massive blocks of people to effect desired outcomes. Much of the time these subjects are only really addressed at four-year election intervals, so the need for immediate access is not quite so urgent.

Nonetheless, these problems need an outlet for local expression and discussion.

It goes without saying that at some point, the paper must turn black and white into green, so any endless windbags, Pete-repeaters and neo-radicals would automatically be subject to editor's discretion.

I believe this criteria would be a good fit for all interested parties.

The letters column is for quick hip shots back and forth, inner-community correspondence and attention to local meetings, rallies and protests.

The editorial section is for making appeals on wide-sweeping issues which tend to move much slower and incrementally.

Thanks for allowing the input.

Dan Lees

Baker City

Newspapers need to investigate

To the editor:

Isn't communication a large part of the purpose of a newspaper? In addition, I agree with Mr Culley that letters should not be restricted to size, nor content and that some letters belong in other places in the paper. I think that newspapers need to be investigative. I grew up in the 60's and that press was not afraid of asking hard questions to our leaders. The press was what brought Watergate to light and helped end Viet Nam. Without the newspapers bringing stories daily, how is the public to know? The local newspaper is also a vehicle by which the public has a voice and letters to the editor are that voice. If one person keeps harping on the same topic it should arouse someone elses ire enough so that he/she writes an answer and a dialogue happens. I also would like to see a Congress watch in the paper, both for Oregon and at the national level. I think letters should be printed as they arrive at your office and should not be edited at all. We are guaranteed free speech even if it is misspelled.

Iva Mace

Baker City

Word restriction

To the editor:

I am in total agreement with Mr. Culley's letter regarding suggested revamping to the "Letters to the editor" section of the paper. I have found the 350 word maximum somewhat restricting in the past and would welcome extra room when needed. I most enthusiastically second his suggestion of getting matters pertaining to religion off the editorial page, and that goes for any and all opinions and beliefs on the subject from avid proponents of the bible, to the most atheistic of viewpoints. These are their beliefs only, but beliefs I have no interest in. They just don't belong there or in many other forums I could think of. Religious page yes, but only there. The way I see it, you are the editor which makes any and all other suggestions pale when approached by the "blue pencil" wielded by you. Hope you get many letters exactly like mine.

Gene Wall

Baker City

Need more local

editorials, too

To the editor:

For the most part I like what you're doing with the editorial page, but agree with Steve Culley's suggestions. The letters policy statement takes up too much space. The Record-Courier gets by without any policy statement. I especially like Steve's suggestion to keep Rev. Richard Fox off the editorial page. If he wants to complain at his parishoners for not tithing enough, he should do it from the pulpit. Nor should he be allowed space to claim that other unnamed churches aren't really busy "gathering souls" for the Lord. As Steve says, letter writers need to be responsible for what they write.

One thing I'd add to Steve's suggestions is that I'd like to see more homegrown editorials, especially taking on the powers that be. A recent case in point is Councilor Petry's blatant failure to abide by the conflict of interest laws. If the Herald doesn't do it, then all the more reason to loosen up the letters policy.

Gary Dielman

Baker City

Headline

To the editor:

In general Steve's thoughts make a lot of sense ...

The Herald should allow longer letters, perhaps no longer than 700 words with a little latitude if it goes over but does not break away from the subject matter.

The frequency should be increased but limited to one letter a week.

An innundation of social articles should be set aside to a separate column elsewhere.

His suggestion of a "Bill Watch" would be nice but elsewhere in the paper. Greg who? About the only time he comes around is when it is getting close to Re-election time.

Ron Chaney has his right to write letters. Like Steve said "real change starts at the grassroots level and local papers are the vehicle for that." Ron has something to say, too.

Above all leave POLITICAL CORRECTNESS out of the equation. If what is said, creates heat, so be it.

I had communication with Rep. Greg Walden a couple years ago, but the Herald did not want it to continue. I could not pursue, through this paper, evidence of his lying. I was in the heat, not the Herald, for the reason the Herald is Walden territory. The Herald was my medium since Greg Walden would not bother to correspond with me through the registered mails. Thus the old "grassroots" theory was squelched.

Political correctness is a big issue today, with millions of dollars waiting to be spent on political ads and favoritism. People and businesses tend to fall all over themselves in their efforts at boot licking. Politics needs to get back to the "grassroots", where individuals with GOOD ideas can have more than a slight chance to step up to the plate... Cronyism has become a political wall that Mr. grassroots can not overcome in any election, local to federal. Politics is about money (lots of it), backscratching and derrire intrusion in general. Oooops, that might have been politically incorrect?

P.S. Loved the editorial on the "Cell Phone"... I think it is great to shake people out of their self-induced stupor. Good job.

Chuck Monpas

Haines

Freedom through the press

To the editor:

Baker City Herald asked for opinions regarding Letters to the Editor, so I will offer mine. I believe that in this country today, the only realistic exercise of the First Amendment freedom of the press by the people is access to the Editorial Page through Letters to the Editor. It is the early warning network of the community; it is also one of the few places of general commerce where new ideas can be broached. It is and should be an important part of the newspaper.

Because letter subjects vary widely, a one size fits all rule regarding length and frequency suffers from the usual deficits of such a rule. Some subjects are sufficiently complex that a short letter can reduce a sensible argument to clichs; subjects such as political endorsements become repetitious with length. There also are times when it would be in the interest of the community to allow a writer to bring forward a different subject within a narrower time frame and there are times when a reply to a responding letter is called for and reasonable. The obvious drawback to such a policy is that editorial decisions must be made and some writers will be offended by them. However, many of us as writers do not suffer from editing but are improved.

Since we already have a "Thank You" section separate from the editorial page, I would not find it extraordinary to have religious letters assigned to the Religion Page. I do believe that putting sermons under Religion is entirely reasonable, while a political or community subject letter with religious overtones belongs on the Editorial Page. It is not reasonable to believe that a religious person's politics or community activity is not going to derive from that religion's tenets.

While I do not have a quarrel with the Herald's choices of political commentators, I do believe that there are sufficient numbers of skilled writers in this community that the paper could benefit from more Guest Opinions by providing a more local flavor to Commentary. While I benefit from the Commentators provided, I also recognize their regional and societal prejudices. Baker County has little in common with the Deep South or Chicago, the tinge of adulation for Jeff Davis and RE Lee or of Chicago's congestion and corrupt government in Commentary scarcely reflects our viewpoint on national policies and politics. Quite frankly, I find Reese, Broder, and Thomas good examples of why I live where I do.

Chuck Butcher

Baker City

Agree a lot with Steve

To the editor:

Just wanted to comment, as requested, on Steve Culley's letter/op-ed concerning your opinion page.

I agree with much of what Steve has to say: there should be a greater commitment to local public expression. Having moved here from Grant County, I was surprised to see so few letters in the Herald as compared to what I used to read in the Blue Mountain Eagle. Due to the nature of local politics, there often is no other venue, other than in the local paper, for the informed citizen to have their voice heard.

If the so-called "free press" is to be the pillar of American democracy that it often claims to be, then why not actually make a commitment to giving most of a whole page for local opinions and viewpoints? Such a commitment could reinvigorate the local democratic process by facilitating the free exchange of ideas through the provision of an essentially uncensored, quasi-public space for democracy to flourish in--hopefully free from the control of the powers that be.

While some advertisers and interest groups may pressure the paper not to print certain viewpoints, as it is my understanding they have done in Grant County, perhaps giving democracy more than lip service could actually increase circulation and bring some of the disaffected and cynical back into the fold. The Herald can still choose to pander to advertisers and other interest groups from the editorial board soapbox with editorials reflecting their opinion, if you think that is in your financial interest, but hopefully they won't exert any control over what reader opinions you publish.

I've noticed that some days, there are no local views at all, and others where there is but one 350 word letter. Is that because people don't write any more, perhaps due to fear or the constraints placed on them, or is it because the Herald prefers to publish the views of the editorial board and national commentators? People may not want to express themselves if they feel they are not allowed to do so fully and if they will not have an opportunity to respond to critics due to the one letter a month rule. While I realize there are limits, the limit on letter frequency just opens the writer to attack and seems to put a damper on response and democratic dialogue.

As Steve suggested, the "Read this…" disclaimer takes up too much space. Besides, it is intimidating, and its word and letter frequency limits discourage a full discussion. Why not make it much smaller or print it once a week? If the paper will give more space, then maybe the constraints could be reduced and people could get back into the spirit of democracy.

I'm with Thomas Jefferson—informed people, imbued with reason, can be trusted with their government. They should be encouraged to speak. If democracy is a good idea for Iraq, maybe we should try it here at home too!

Christopher Christie

Baker City