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Declaring cessation in hostilities

Thinking Out Loud

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

With luck, I remember my favorite Benjamin Franklin quotation today or early tomorrow so that I have no excuses for my Thanksgiving Day behavior. More often, the witticism resurfaces around Jan. 2, when it's too late to do any good.

"Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation," said wise old Ben a couple of centuries ago before he founded a chain of variety stores, a descendant of which survives today at 233 Front Street.

The familiar quotation materialized today, just in the nick of time, but not for the usual reasons.

It came to mind as I was preparing to append an editor's note to a letter of the type we publish daily on this page. The gist of the note, which I decided to deal with in a different way, went something like this:

With the frequent participants in this interminable debate each having had numerous opportunities to state their views and with the conversation having become repetitive as well as shrill, we declare a cessation in the hostilities. Let's move on.

I don't think I could have gotten the message across by saying less, but I wonder if I said too much. Letters from readers are like gold to an editor. No matter the content, letters remind us that you value the paper. In each edition, we try to provide news you can use. On page 4, we offer free space for your views.

No matter how many letters we get, we never can have too many. We try to print them as quickly as possible after they arrive. If they won't all fit on page 4 within a day or two, we'll use page 5 as well. We love our paper serving as a venue for community discussion and debate. We exist in part to facilitate an exchange of views. Usually, the exchange is lively and fun. It can be inspiring, too. Last week, I received a letter that was so thoughtful and balanced that I sent a note back to the author thanking him for submitting it and for the content. If we acknowledged a "Letter of the Month," Patrick Minick's "Insults and assumptions" in Sunday's Empire would have won hands down.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if we are eating to dullness or drinking to elevation. A mystery to any editor is why more readers don't send us letters. Another mystery is why the same people write over and over. Ecclesiastes suggests there is no mystery at all. There is nothing new under the sun. The characteristics of human nature are evident and eternal. Some people live for the spotlight. Some enjoy stirring the pot. Some cannot resist taking the bait offered by those who enjoy stirring the pot. Others never let go of the wrongs they've suffered. They can steer any community issue back toward their grievance - what's wrong with state government, for example.

After a while, we recognize the names and find the messages predictable.

When, if ever, should I intervene? Tough call. For me, it's when the same people are saying the same things over and over with the result being that the rest of our readers no longer find page 4 interesting. They begin to avoid page 4 because they have no intention of reading yet again about outrageous wrongs, self-righteous indignations, and bitter expressions of mock disbelief.

The content of this page should be a magnet, not the equivalent of eating to dullness.

After today's edition, we'll pull down the curtain on repetitive content. Sorry for the short notice. Once you've stated your views and rebutted your respondents, the rest of us are going to move on. We hope you'll join us.

Managing Editor Steve Reed can be reached at streed@juneauempire.com.



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