OK to toss some letters

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

Letters to the editor are simply an opportunity for citizens to express their opinion in a public forum. Since it is the responsibility of the editor to determine what opinions are expressed in a private enterprise newspaper, I believe the editor should determine if what one person has to say is worthy of frequent publication, or dropped as simply an irrelevant cry in the wilderness.

Because I have written letters to the editor to a variety of publications over several decades, I have been an active reader of such letters from other people. Some writers might make good points but make them poorly, some might have positions I disagree with, and some give away their elevated sense of self when they use an indignant voice. I have been guilty of trying to pound an issue to death and respect Mr. Reed's leavening of my efforts with his spike.

Some years ago I was visiting with the late Robert Atwood, publisher of the Anchorage Times, in his office. I was a young guy with a small publishing business and he would chat with me as part of his network of community contacts. On this particular occasion I asked him what he was reading and he said: "My letters to the editor."

I responded that it was nice to know he personally read every one, and didn't have somebody else do it for him. At that point he dropped the letter, and came up out of his chair with both hands on his desk. Looking me directly in the eyes, Mr. Atwood said: "I sure do, Donn, and I've thrown a hell of a lot of yours away!"

During more than 20 years in Juneau I have become familiar with a variety of Empire letter writer, to the point that I look first at who wrote each letter before reading it. There are a number of names I don't bother to read any more because their positions are predictably ideological and one-sided. Recently I have found this is most likely the case when the subject of the letter is Don Smith, publisher of the Empire. It's easy to understand why editor Reed might feel he must publish indignant personalized attacks to make his boss look good, but I would rather more of them were thrown away.

Donn Liston


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