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Why we don’t sign editorials

May 22, 2011
Messenger News

One of our readers has a bone to pick with The Messenger.

He believes our editorials should be signed, and he correctly points out that in order to have one of his letters to the editor published, he must sign his name.

Editorials aren't signed because they are the institutional view of a newspaper's editorial board. Unlike columns, which are one person's view and always identify the author, editorials reflect a collective view.

That's not to say The Messenger's editorials accurately reflect the individual views of the board's members. Four people serve on The Messenger editorial board: Publisher Larry D. Bushman, City Editor Jesse Helling, Editorial Page Coordinator Terrence Dwyer and myself, as managing editor.

Anyone acquainted with the four of us knows that we often disagree on a wide variety of issues and philosophies as individuals. As a board, we present one viewpoint, which requires some give and take by everybody in the room.

Said reader also rightly points out that The Messenger strongly supports Republican views. The Messenger's institutional philosophy is Republican. It has been for many years and it will continue to be so, especially on a national level. I'm sure many people would be surprised to learn that not all the members of the editorial board are registered Republicans.

Editorials are, by their nature, subjective writing. Opinions belong on the editorial page, and we welcome opinions other than our own.

Over the years, I have heard from a number of people who believe we only print opinions that mirror our institutional view. Many of those writers are convinced that's why their letters to the editor don't get published.

There are, in fact, a number of reasons that letters don't get published, including:

Length - The letter exceeds the 400-word limit.

Frequency - The letter writer has had a letter published within the past 30 days.

Not of local interest - The letter appears to be a mass-mailed or boiler plate piece sent to multiple media outlets throughout the state or country.

Flawed information - The letter contains material, presented as fact, that can't be substantiated or which is obviously untrue.

Libelous information - The letter makes personal attacks against someone who is not considered a public figure and should have some right to privacy.

Hateful speech - The letter singles out a person, religion, ethnicity or other group and makes false and/or inflammatory statements regarding that person or group. Or, the writer engages in name calling.

Ah, but what about freedom of speech? The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms, including "freedom of speech, or of the press." The freedom to say something, to express an opinion without fear of government silencing or retribution exists regardless of whether The Messenger runs a letter to the editor.

With the right to a free press comes the obligation to do the best job we can to make sure all our letter writers play by the rules and offer, to the extent possible, constructive and thoughtful letters to the editor.

We appreciate your cooperation in doing so.

Barbara Wallace Hughes is managing editor of The Messenger.



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