Many motivations behind letters to the editor
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/04/2022 (324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE regular writers of letters to the editor obviously agree on the importance of a vigorous public conversation on important issues. Other than that, they disagree on almost everything.
Right wing or left wing, confrontational or conciliatory, heartfelt or headstrong, they are an eclectic bunch who care enough about our community to speak out and put their name to their views.
Why do they bother? What sort of reaction do their published letters get from their friends and family?
We asked those questions of a sample of writers who submit letters consistently. Many responded with lengthy, eloquent answers. Here are some excerpts:
Sig Laser: “Debate teases out a better understanding of the journey we’re on together. Letters allow for bottom-up communication to balance the dominant top-down dynamic. If a letter of mine is printed, occasionally someone might call to say congratulations. Once I even got hate mail.”
Bill Allan: “I get peeved when a contributor lies, or has a politically correct stance. I write often because I think people shouldn’t believe everything they read and people shouldn’t get away with writing BS. My golfing group, about 25 guys, will say, ‘You made the paper again, Billy,’ and the conversation will start on the putting green and often involves some spirited back and forth.”
Lynn Silver: “Putting one’s thoughts in order and writing is calming. Also, committing one’s actual name to an opinion conveys a sense of responsibility. More than once, the process of writing a letter to the editor has shown me that my viewpoint is perhaps not the most accurate one. Such letters are of course not sent!”
Randy Clinch: “I view the letters section as a means to inform readers as to how others are affected by news events; that regardless of our situation, we are not alone and are an intrinsic part of our community.”
Shane Nestruck: “I write letters to balance the very biased editorial contributions that I find offensively right wing. The letters section lets me speak directly to other readers, who, often when they meet me, mention they read my comments. Way more often than I’d expect, my letters make for great discussion amongst friends and family.”
Kim Trethart: “I like to contradict the cancel culture, today’s woke crowd, and the virtuous eco-warriors. I write as a form of venting. It forces me to do research, as I like to learn and think. Although I believe the Free Press cherry-picks the letters it prints to express the newspaper’s liberal views, the letters section does give a glimpse of the ‘average street pulse.’”
Tom Pearson: “In some cases, letters may even change perspective or educate. One reader branded me as “an ableist white wealthy male,” which provoked a fair bit of laughter among my friends and acquaintances because although I’m a white male (I’m not certain when this became a pejorative), I am not all that ‘ableist’ or wealthy. For example, I have never owned a new car and drive a 10-year-old Volvo.”
Jim Clark : “Generally, I get positive comments from people about my letters, but then it’s like social media: people of similar opinions hang together. I have found media, including the Winnipeg Free Press, increasingly prone to affective writing, for want of a better word, and that probably influences what letters get published. The danger is that the press becomes just another echo chamber espousing positions because of emotion rather than reason.”
Ruth Swan: “The letters are a cross-section of democratic opinion. I can usually tell who reads the paper on a daily basis if they mention my letter. Friends who agree with me usually tell me. People who disagree, I don’t hear from.”
Will Franklin: I believe that for every one person who expresses a view, there are a thousand who think the same, but do not take the time or effort to express it.
Bonnie Bricker: “Reading the paper is a breakfast tradition in our home, and the letters section has always intrigued me. The people who recognize my name or know me well also know that I will always express my strong opinions, given the chance.”
Ian Toal: “I find that in online conversations I can blurt something out and press send without really thinking about what I say, just one voice in the many. A letter to the editor takes more time to compose, and a person needs to arrange their thoughts.”
Gloria Taylor: “I always read the letters section. Never miss. It’s a great meeting place that satisfies a common need we have to connect and share. It’s a good grassroots forum that politicians would do well to monitor.”
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
Senior copy editor
Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.