Monday, December 17, 2007

December 17, 2007 Newspaper Etiquette


Consider This for December 17, 2007-Newspaper Etiquette


I have been doing mediation, counseling and facilitation for the past twenty years. One of the ground rules in each of these is to address issues and not people. Attack the problem and not the person.

I know that the Letters to the Editor section of the paper is one of the best read parts of any newspaper. I am sure that there are people who rip open the paper and go to that section first. The sports page is probably the second choice and then the front page.

The Summit Daily News has now included a “comments” section on the on-line edition. The comments are much shorter and have less substance than a normal letter but still contain a lot of emotion.

I have to confess that I read every letter to the editor and check the comments section of the on-line paper as well. The home page of the Summit Daily News also includes sections named “Most Commented” and “Most Viewed.” I would direct your attention to both of these as each gives you a good indication of what you and your neighbors are reading and issues that they may care about the most.

The upsetting part of both the letters and comments are the personal attacks. Most of the time the letter or the comment is attacking the person who wrote the letter or comment and not about the article or the column in question.

The writers will often direct all of their words and thoughts toward the intelligence of the other person and how unqualified they are or how wrong they are in their position.

I am always reminded of the “Prime Minister’s Questions” in the coverage of the British Parliament on CSPAN. Someone will rise to attack the Prime Minister and start by saying, “The Honorable Prime Minister is both a statesman and a gentleman but in this case he has become an idiot.” See how you need to be polite before you strike the death blow?

I am also reminded how important the First Amendment of the Constitution is and how we need to allow and encourage the people to speak out in public and in our newspapers.

In 1983 the editor of the Summit County Sentinel was a good editor and a good writer.

I was the Undersheriff at the time working as the number to man for the Sheriff.

The editor wrote a front page article with the headline (paraphrased) “Gary Lindstrom Resigns.” He went on to say that I was under attack for various reasons and that I had decided to resign under pressure.

Nothing was further from the truth. I had not resigned and I was not under pressure to resign. I asked the Sheriff if he knew anything about the story and he said that he did not. I called the editor and asked about the story explaining that I had not resigned. He said that he had a “reliable source” who had told him I had resigned. I told him that I had not. He did not apologize or offer a retraction.

I did resign about ten years later. The editor resigned a few months later and moved to the northwest. I am not sure that he is still in the newspaper business.

My point is that I had good cause to attack Mike and get my pound of flesh. I did nothing other than to continue to stay where I was and continue as Undersheriff. Most would think that I had good cause to attack him. My thought at the time was why punish him because he was unprofessional and used very bad judgment.

I know that many of you feel some sort of righteous anger over some letter that someone wrote to the paper. I also know that you feel justified in attacking some person for what they wrote.

I think it is much better to take the high road and attack the issue and not the person.

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