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Live like a referee

By Brenda Looper

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 4:08 a.m.

We have some of the most creative and funny letter-writers here, and they make this job a lot easier.

And then there are the others.

Running the Voices page can often feel like being a referee at a no-holds-barred wrestling match, with the bruises to show for it. The overwhelming bulk of the people we deal with here are kind, funny and understanding, and realize the realities that a statewide daily with hundreds of submissions and a limited news hole cannot possibly print all of their letters, and that there is no agenda or conspiracy in how letters are chosen or edited.

And then ... there are the others.

Which brings me to those who write ... and write ... and write. Some letter-writers send us multiple letters over the course of a week (sometimes over a day), or they send a letter immediately after they've been published, and then are upset that the subsequent letters aren't printed immediately, sometimes complaining that I'm censoring them and demanding that their letters be published ASAP, unedited.

Sigh. That policy box on the bottom of the page isn't there just to fill space, but it might as well be considering how few of the troublesome writers read it or believe those and other policies don't apply to them.

Our rules for everyone allow one letter per writer in a 30-day period. Pretty simple, that. Yet ...

I have a stack of letters on my desk that are too early, and the aim is always to try to keep track of those that can hold till their 30 days are up. Human memory failure and events beyond our control, though, sometimes mean that those letters hold even longer or are forgotten entirely when onslaughts come.

The simplest fix? Be more aware of the rules everyone must follow, including that thing about 30 days. Besides, my eyes could use a break from rolling every time I get a new, completely different letter from the same person every other day ... or hour.

As for bullying, yep, it happens--to other letter-writers and to staff. (By the way, Mr. Reddoch, I hope you don't mind that I edited your letter, as I was referring to bullying, not "bulling," which is something else entirely. I try to avoid writing about sexual behavior of cattle as a rule.)

I don't like acting as a referee, but it sometimes is necessary, and I'm not the only editor who must do so. For example, this week, the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., changed its online comment system. Editor Gary Graham noted that "online commenters often provide new context to our stories, point out questions that we should ask, and debate the pros and cons of a variety of issues. Online commenting has provided the newsroom new ways to get constructive feedback."

However, he noted, the staff spends an inordinate amount of time moderating the comments, many of which are anonymous (a job I'm thrilled to leave to our online staff here), therefore the paper would allow comments only on local stories, and discontinue allowing comments on letters to the editor.

The goals, Graham said, are to encourage more constructive and civil discourse on local issues, and to reduce the amount of time the paper's journalists have to spend monitoring comments rather than reporting ... which is kinda in the job description of a "reporter."

On those letters comments, Graham said:

"Eliminating comments on letters to the editor is long overdue. We print many letters to the editor. We require the writers to identify themselves by name, as well as provide an address and phone number. We call them to verify that they wrote and submitted the letters. On the other hand, online readers always have been able to comment anonymously on the letters, often attacking the writers. Such a system is inherently unfair because the online commenters aren't required to attach their names to their often critical comments. Besides, there is a perfectly reasonable alternative: Submit your own letters to the editor."

What he said. We're not eliminating those comments, but I would encourage our online commenters to write a letter for the print edition as well. Unless they're afraid to stand behind their words in their real identity. Surely that's not it.

I sometimes note letter-writers who've passed on, especially when I remind people why I've opened the page up to wider points of view, including those that many don't agree with (it is an opinion page, after all). Writers like Kermit Moss and Richard Dixon left far too soon, and many others are aging and ailing.

One I didn't realize was ailing was Dr. Jerry Kahler, who died last month. I always enjoyed letters from this kind and funny man, but didn't know until receiving a letter from Fleming Stockton that he had passed. In reading his obituary, I was in awe of the life he lived as a world traveler and educator. I was especially touched by the request that, "In lieu of flowers, the family suggests letters to the editor."

So c'mon, send a letter.

We'll miss you, Dr. Kahler.

------------v------------

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.

Editorial on 08/06/2014

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TheCriticsPulpit says... August 6, 2014 at 2:36 p.m.

The paper would have more room on the Voices Page if Brenda's column was just a logo and lede paragraph to tease to something on the internet.

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