SARA VANDEN BERGE
A reporter I used to work with once told me that she fell into her chosen profession because she was “nosey.” I suppose “a need to know” is what drives those in the media to do what they do, but my former colleague’s reasoning behind her chosen career path made me wonder what was behind mine.
I don’t consider myself “nosier” than the average Jane and I believe a desire to know what is happening in our communities is inherent in most of us.
As a kid, I hated watching the news, although my parents tuned in every evening, then launched into lengthy discussions on what was happening throughout the world.
As I got older, I began to appreciate those conversations, especially when I was able to take part. In my house, sitting around the dinner table with family meant interesting conversation. No topic was ever off-limits and healthy debate was always on the menu, which is where I believe my love for newspapers, particularly the editorial page, blossomed.
The editorial page is where columnists, cartoonists and readers have their very own space to express their opinions. One of the questions I am most frequently asked is what criteria do I use in deciding what I allow to be published on this page, particularly letters to the editor.
My answer is simple: I don’t discriminate. It is rare that I stifle or edit what is published on the editorial page.
Here’s why: freedom of expression is more than a worthy sidebar. The First Amendment is an issue of freedom, and the right one has to say what’s on their mind without the risk of being stoned or flogged or having a useful appendage hacked off.
Not so in other parts of the world, where people can be imprisoned or “disappear” for speaking unkindly or criticizing their government.
But not here. Nyet.
In America, we get to say whatever is on our mind, even if it’s mean, ugly or just plain stupid.
My adoration for the First Amendment makes it difficult for me to use the delete key when it comes to e-mail sent my way. Letters to the editor is the one way readers can publicly voice their opinion on anything that tickles their fancy. I don’t have to agree with the writer to publish a letter, and in most cases, I don’t. But I will defend their right to say it so long as the letter meets certain guidelines.
For instance, anonymous letters will not be published. Either include your name or join a chat room. Letters must include a telephone number where I can reach the author to get a verbal confirmation that the signature is, in fact, the author’s, and that they want the letter published.
There is also a different set of guidelines pertaining to elected officials and private citizens. Writers cannot say they don’t like their neighbor, but they can say they don’t like the mayor. They can even say why they don’t like her. That goes back to the idea that it’s OK to criticize our government.
With election season upon us, I expect my inbox will soon be filled with various opinions on who’s electable and who’s not.
And just remember - try to keep the letters under 400 words.
SARA VANDEN BERGE is Managing Editor of the Reporter. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.