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We want your letters, but there are rules

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz, editor

By Jamie Baker-Nantz

 

Last week I was given an opportunity to speak to fourth grade students at Dry Ridge Elementary on Career Day. The students asked questions such as, did you have to go to school for your job, what are your hours, how much do you get paid and do you like your job.

As I reflected on how to answer those questions, I realized that many of the things about the newspaper business that are just automatic to me may be misunderstood by the public.

This seems like a good time to clear up any misinformation or confusion about our policies and procedures.

Letters to the editor probably have caused more sleepless nights and gray hair than I care to admit. It’s not that I don’t like letters to the editor. I love hearing from the public. That’s what a community newspaper is all about, but letters to the editor can be tricky.

While the letter isn’t the opinion of the newspaper, the newspaper can be held accountable for libel if the letter contains untruths about a person or situation. That’s why all letters to the editor are edited by me. If necessary, I even refer them up our chain of command to our executive editor in Shelbyville or to one of our attorneys.

My philosophy has always been that if the public brings something to us to be published, then I’m going to do everything I can to find room for that in the Grant County News.

Unfortunately, there are some letters to the editor that we cannot publish.

We publish letters on a variety of topics. 

Have you taken issue with a local official? Are you concerned about something in the community and want to express your opinion? That’s fine with us. Sign your name and give us your address and phone number and the ball is rolling.

We require all letters to contain a signature, which will be published. However, the street address and phone number are for verification purposes only.

If you want to take issue with a local business because you feel you were mistreated, the newspaper’s opinion page is not the place to vent. If you feel you’ve been wronged, contact the Better Business Bureau. Their job is to help consumers.

Unfortunately, in the last few weeks I’ve had to decline to publish several letters because they were unsigned, or contained the signature “Anonymous” or “Name Withheld.”

The Grant County News, since I’ve been here for 20 years, has never, ever published an anonymous letter. Early in my career I did publish what seemed to be a legitimate letter only to find out that the person who signed it didn’t exist. Hence the reason that all letters must contain an address and phone number so they can be verified if needed.

Sometimes a person will submit a letter without a phone number. I make “reasonable” attempts to contact that person (looking in the phone book, calling information or checking the address through the PVA’s office), but I can’t afford to hire a private investigator to track someone down.

It saddens me not to be able to publish some of the letters that I’ve received lately because they’ve been good ones that addressed issues in our community.

As always, letters to the editor about a local issue are given top priority. We do accept letters about other topics, but letters about local issues are published first.

Due to space constraints and the fact that letters to the editor should be about local issues, the News will no longer print “thank you” letters on the Viewpoint page. Many times organizations and businesses submit thank you type information as letters to the editor and in the past they’ve been published on the Viewpoint page, but we are discontinuing that practice.

Thank you items can be published in our classified pages as a paid advertisement.

There may be exceptions to this rule, which will be made on a letter by letter basis, but the majority of thank you letters will have to be paid for.

I know that this may not be a popular decision, but I believe it’s one that will only enhance the purpose of the newspaper having a Viewpoint page which is to encourage the community to talk.

My job as editor is to make sure that the news content of our paper accurately reflects what’s happening in our community.

Sometimes it’s good news and sometimes it’s not.

Regardless, one of the main purposes of our “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” section, which is printed along the left side of this page, is to encourage thought.

We’re not asking that you agree with us, only that you think about a particular issue. If you disagree with our opinion, then write a letter to the editor and share your opinion.

If all we do is make you think about something, then we believe we’ve done our job.

(Jamie Baker-Nantz is the editor of the Grant County News. She can be reached at 824-3343 or by e-mail at j.bakernantz@fuse.net.)