By Tim Douglass, Publisher of the Pope County Tribune
Civil discourse is something we encourage on the opinion page of this newspaper. That’s true for most community newspapers.
It is rare to see misinformation published regularly in most community newspapers.
In smaller papers, if inaccuracies happen, our readers let us know immediately.
We’re not some far away business or overwhelming tech giant, we are here and our readers know us and see us on a regular basis. If we get something wrong, we are told almost before the ink dries.
So, when talking media, please don’t lump us all into one convenient label.
Sure small newpapers understaffed can suffer from typos. But those aren’t intentional and rarely change the meaning of a news story and can be another topic entirely.
But back to civil discourse.
The discourse, or discussion, we are referring to is on this page, marked clearly as “Opinion.”
For the most part, we have been proud of readers who write letters for publication in the Pope County Tribune. Most address serious local topics with eye on self-image and a respect for another’s point of view. Although our policies don’t permit it, rarely do writers resort to name-calling, personal attacks or misinformation on local issues.
The same cannot be said for those who write letters on national subjects and expect this newspaper to publish them. If those letters contain civil, respectful comments about local events or news or our commentary, fine, write away and we’ll publish those letters everytime as long as we can confirm the writer and publish the writer’s name with the letter. But don’t write letters about national politics that are based on tribal journalism, filled with distain for one group or the other, and expect us to perpetuate that kind of drivel to our loyal readers. Send those things out on Facebook where there are no editors and no one looking to see what’s accurate and what’s not. And as we’ve learned over the past few days, Facebook and it’s all-important algorythms actually share more of those kinds of hate-filled posts than they do dull, polite commentary.
It is important to point out that this newspaper is not required by the government, or civic organizations or anyone to publish any letter we receive. In other words, The Pope County Tribune has the sole discretion to decide whether or not any reader submission will be published. Why not publish all that are submitted? you ask.
Some letters are unsigned. Some are libelous and others are simply distasteful. Some are filled with outright falsehoods about subjects the newspaper has never reported on or commented about. Some are just about attacking or belittling someone, some organization or some government entity. Some are advertising and others are form letters–the exact same letter sent to many newspapers.
With that said, most of the letters we receive are published. That’s because most of our local writers understand what will be published and what won’t. Or they ask us about policies before submitting them.
So yes, we encourage our readers to write letters to the editor, but don’t mistakenly believe that it is your right to force us to publish anything or everything submitted. That decision is ours alone, and we take it very seriously.