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You would think most journalists would cringe when a reader sends a scathing letter to the editor.
You would think most journalists would want to crawl under a desk when someone openly disagrees with a column or story their heart and soul put into creating.
You would think, but generally not.
Journalists don’t get into this business because they’re looking to make friends. They don’t get star-struck by having their name and photo in print on a regular basis. They don’t become journalists because they want to be rich or famous. Most do it because they love looking for the truth and finding a way to creatively relay stories to others in words and photos.
But more importantly, they want people to think. They want people to talk about what they’re doing, and sometimes friendship and source relationships can develop when readers take the time to engage writers about their work.
Over the years, I’ve received several letters that began with, “You probably won’t print this but…” and then the writer goes on to take a journalist to task on a variety of topics.
As long as those letters meet our letters to the editor policy (you can generally see in on page 5A), don’t libel someone, and have a basic level of decency, we’ll print them.
Why wouldn’t we? Such discourse makes good journalism.
And honestly, we’re much more surprised when we receive letters that praise and support us for good work than we are the ones that challenge us.
As a general rule journalists don’t frequently hear from people who agree with them or like the work they’re doing.
And that’s OK with us, too.
Communication with readers, whether it’s a letter to the editor, a phone call or a face-to-face conversation, helps journalists develop a thick skin. It also helps reporters learn how to keep their opinions out of the work they produce, unless, of course, they’re writing an opinion column, which in our paper you’ll find on pages 4A and 5A each week.
So if you’re reading things in the Beacon you like or don’t like, or if you have opinions about things we’re working on, send us a letter to the editor. Not only do we enjoy hearing from you, we know our letters to the editor pages (which have been honored with state and national awards) are among the most-read pages in the paper.
But like I said, please use some basic decency and engage us with thought-provoking comments. Don’t be like a woman who called and left a message for me recently.
She didn’t agree with the column I wrote last week saying the American public had the right to choose whether or not they wanted to view the Osama bin Laden death photos.
Instead of thoughtfully countering my opinions with her own, the caller told me I was “stupid” and had “no common sense,” and I’m pretty sure she added something about a waste of space. Me or my opinions? I’m not sure. One and the same? Pretty much.
Ahh, but if only it had been a letter to the editor.
Would I have published it?
Send them in.