Letters to the editor and the greater conversation

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogoWe get letters and then sometimes, we get letters.

Some praise the acts of others (once in a while, even us), some take various public and elected officials to task (including us). All of them have one thing in common: they represent the opinion of our readers (you’ll note by looking just above the headline, on this column, the word ‘opinion,’ denoting the section, appears). None, even this piece, should be taken as the literal truth — and certainly none have been fact-checked or vetted for accuracy (how does one check for accurate opinions?).

I know this policy does vary with some other local publications, which do edit letters (or not run them at all, to the ongoing frustration of many who feel their voices are repeatedly quashed). As with our comment section (which also has had its share of shall we say, interesting, exchanges) we don’t stifle opinion. There are a few exceptions, hate speech and the such, but rarely (if ever) have we been forced to decline to run a letter. This is one of the perks of having an all-digital platform with virtually unlimited space.

Monday night at the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education meeting, the question came up of whether we should have run Bruce Yelton’s Letter To The Editor this past Saturday and whether we should have offered it prior to publication to the school district for vetting and response.

That suggestion prompted me to have to formally speak at a board meeting for the first time in nearly four years of covering that body, an action I find disagreeable. Not because I hate speaking in public (actually, I love doing it — I’m a total ham, and it was about the only thing in politics I was any good at), but because a reporter should not participate in meetings that he or she covers.

While I had no concerns whatsoever with board members criticizing the the letter — I was forced to take issue with both the idea of spiking the letter or running it by the school administration for approval/fact check.

Not running the letter from a long-time and close observer of the school district – Yelton has many times been the lone resident in the audience at board meetings — was never an option for us.

As for seeking prior review by a local public body, that strikes us as totally inappropriate. While it certainly would be a tidier way to do things, and keep controversy and dispute to a minimum, it isn’t the American way — democracy by its very nature is messy.

In my comments to the board, I asked if  Mr. Yelton had read his letter at the microphone at the meeting, whether he would have been stopped mid-sentence and led from the room. Obviously not.

We can’t deny people the right to express their opinion, even if we strongly disagree with their interpretation of the facts. Often — as students of the Kurasawa film Rashomon know — the facts of any situation can be a matter of perspective.

On that basis, we feel strongly that more perspectives — even if some of them fall outside the conventional wisdom — do add an important piece to the ongoing community conversation and that each voice, even the discordant ones, adds to the mosaic that helps create a shared understanding. Not to mention that there are times when the one voice in the wilderness turns out to be right and the majority, wrong.

We welcome rebuttals, corrections, arguments and complaints — even if they point out that we’ve messed up. We will, and have, run them without hesitation.

In order to better facilitate a clear understanding of what you’re reading and where, in the coming days on all of our Times’ sites, we will be defining our Letters To The Editor policy and reminding readers that such letters are strictly the opinion of the writer and do not represent the opinion or endorsement of this publication.

As always, your comments and suggestions are welcomed.

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