Have you ever sat down, in a fit of opinionated passion, to pen an epistle to the editor of the local daily?
I have — when I was upset about an event I had witnessed, when I wanted to thank people for help I had received, and when the newspaper’s editorial was too slanted to be tolerated.
(Tiny confession: I’ve sent more than one letter for the last reason.)
Traditional dailies reserve two pages in each edition, the editorial page and the op ed page, for venturing into opinion. It’s where readers turn to find out who’s riled up at whom.
The pages typically contain the publisher’s opinion (the editorial of the day), an editorial cartoon, letters to the editor and pieces by nationally syndicated columnists.
It’s usually an interesting read. Some dailies try to make it even more so. When I was the wire editor of the Concord (N.H.) Monitor many moons ago, my job included laying out the opinion and op ed pages. The Monitor had recruited a stable of local experts in various fields, and I managed their scheduled submissions. It was fascinating work. They were the content experts of the day, blogging, as it were, through the paper. But I digress.
A block of space on the opinion pages is reserved for letters to the editor. It’s foolhardy to engage in a writing war with a publisher who buys ink by the barrel, but many march in with the courage of conviction.
It does take courage, for most newspapers require your signature and will publish your name with your letter. That tends to raise the level of discourse.
(If you don’t believe me, just compare the letters in the local daily print edition to the anonymous comments posted in an online edition.)
It’s a community benefit, this public opportunity for a one-to-many expression of ideas and opinion. It’s also an individual benefit for any reader who, in essence, is allowed to borrow the publisher’s press for a day.