Letters page belongs to readers
News-Times readers are smart enough to sort things out.
As The New Yorker's legendary newspaper critic A. J. Liebling once noted, 'Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.'
Even in an era when it seems everybody blogs and tweets, Liebling's words are a good reminder that media outlets retain a measure of considerable influence concentrated in the hands of a few.
The News-Times staff, for example, picks which stories appear on the front page and which are distilled to a 'brief' on page 8.
We decide when to send a photographer to an event, what words are used in headlines and whose kids are mentioned in the recap of the swim meet.
These decisions, often made on the fly, are informed by some general journalistic practices and the 70-plus years of our combined professional experience.
But they are our decisions alone.
The one exception is the section of the paper you're reading now.
My policy for the past seven years has been to run every signed letter or guest column we get from a local resident, as long as it doesn't libel anyone or personally attack a private citizen.
That's why when I recently received a pair of letters, one blasting the conduct of a high school coach and another indirectly hammering the city manager, I decided to run them both.
Here were two taxpayers taking issue with a couple public employees who perform their work in the public eye.
Were their words harsh? Yes. Was the criticism justified? I don't know. And, frankly, I don't much care.
Because once I start applying rules for specific letters, I don't know where to stop.
Should I have considered the fact that City Manager Michael Sykes has a pretty thick skin, while Coach Greg Evers would probably be pissed (a hunch confirmed by the scolding I got from his boss)?
Look at another letter that appears this week criticizing our handling of a story on military recruitment.
Should the fact that the author is a friend of mine give her more access to our pages than others? Or, should I have spiked the letter because she found fault (wrongly, in my mind) with the decisions of one of my employees?
Another letter this week criticizes a local business owner. Should I consider that he's advertised in the paper and done work for us?
Do I hold the letters from right-wingers whose arguments annoy me? Or should I give them preferential treatment to balance out my own left-of-center public rants?
The answer to all of those questions is an emphatic 'no.'
I understand the inclination to avoid printing anything that might upset people.
But my experience is that News-Times readers are smart enough to sort things out.
Take a look at this week's paper.
Michael Sykes chose to respond to the verbal barbs pointed at him with a thoughtful explanation of the other side of the story.
Greg Evers didn't have to respond at all, as a former player, his current players and a parent all offered a different take on his coaching style.
But mainly I'm hesitant to meddle because any limits we put on what appears on these pages reduce access to one of the few places where the power of the free press really does belong to the people.