Wanted: Letter writers, columnists

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 26, 2007

I cut my journalistic teeth in the newsroom, and, truth be known, it’s where my heart will always be.

As publisher, with broad responsibility for advertising, bookkeeping, production and delivery facets of the newspaper, I have little time for day-to-day involvement in the newsroom. That privilege goes to Editor Paul McFarlane and his hard-working staff, who do a terrific job.

One of the pleasures I miss most from my newsroom days is hands-on involvement with the Opinion page. I write this column and an occasional editorial but otherwise leave the page and its content to Paul.

We’ve made great strides under Paul’s leadership toward our goal of an all-local Opinion page. Gone are “filler” editorials from Omaha and Detroit and Timbuktu, replaced by commentary about Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County and Hampton Roads — and an occasional local take on state, national or international affairs. About the only thing that’s consistently non-local are political cartoons, for which we haven’t identified a local source. If a local artist is interested in contributing, let us hear from you.

We’ve also seen an increased volume of letters to the editor and guest columns, but we want more. This page, at its finest, is a marketplace of ideas about the communities we serve. We’ll always give you our opinion in the form of staff columns and editorials, but we’re more interested in yours. We place your commentary at the top of the page and ours at the bottom for a reason: Your opinions are more important.

We place few restrictions on letters. Submissions should not be defamatory or in poor taste. We prefer opinions on issues rather than personalities. For example, the newspaper is not the forum to air a beef with your neighbor over his barking dog.

We also stay out of individual disputes between consumers and businesses. If you have a bad experience at the emergency room, or your plumber gouges you for fixing your broken toilet, or the car lot sells you a lemon, there are proper channels to air and resolve those disputes. The letters-to-the-editor column is not one of them — for several reasons.

One is the sheer volume; unfortunately, people have unpleasant experiences every day in the marketplace. Second is the “he said, she said” nature of such disputes. In the interest of fair play, we’d be obligated to get the other party’s side of the story, and we simply don’t have the time and resources to get involved. If the alleged offense is egregious enough, a consumer-advocacy group or attorney will gladly take up your cause.

Otherwise, this page is a wide-open forum. Letters must be signed and include a phone number and mailing address. Only the writer’s name and hometown will appear in print, but we need the additional contact information in case we have questions or need to verify authenticity.

The ideal letter length is 250 words or less, but more in-depth opinions of up to 750 words are welcome as guest columns, also known as “Your Turn.” Those submissions should be accompanied by a photograph of the author and a one- or two-sentence biographical sketch.

If you have an opinion about your community, region, state, nation or world — thoughts about what’s working, or what’s not — please write. We’re eager to share your opinion with other readers.

STeve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.