The sting of rejection

letters****

Just about everyone who sends multiple letters to the Voices page will get one or more rejected at some point, and the reasons can vary.

Sometimes we receive so many letters that we have to be even pickier about what we print (like now … wow).

Regardless, the decision to print or not is made on a case-by-case basis.

But even when we have the occasional drought, there are some letters that in most cases we just can’t, in good conscience, print (though occasionally one may still slip through), especially as campaign season ramps up.

The Voices page doesn't have a logo, but if it did, I'd want it to be along the lines of this one from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It really cracks me up.

The Voices page doesn’t have a logo, but if it did, I’d want it to be along the lines of this one from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It really cracks me up.

Besides those that accuse others of crimes or otherwise libel them, we can include among them:

1. Unmerited insults of other named readers. What it means is that when you speak of other readers in your letters, be respectful, and back up any assertions you make; attack the argument, not the person. And leave their mamas alone, please.

Image from demotivation.us.

Image from demotivation.us.

No, this does not mean that words like “stupid” or “idiot” are banned. If I were to ban words other than those already verboten under AP or our own house style, they’d probably be ones like “amongst” or “ole” (instead of ol’) as they’re like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Want to really annoy me? “Verb” some nouns (“authored” should be wiped off the face of the earth), misspell and/or misuse there/their/they’re, it’s/its and your/you’re, then stick “swath” in there for good measure. Then you will be dead to me.

On the other hand, creatively use “persnickety” and/or “amok,” and land yourself on my Christmas card list. If you can’t smile when you say those words, something’s wrong. While you’re at it, for extra points, stick in “discombobulated” and explain why you never see “combobulated” or “gruntled” people. (Want to read another rant about words? Go here.)

Image credit: Nieman Journalism Lab.

Image credit: Nieman Journalism Lab.

2. Letters that contain unattributed disproven assertions stated as fact. One claim that can be easily corrected or edited around without changing the meaning of the letter we can usually deal with; multiple disproven/false claims or single ones that are the crux of a letter will land those posts in the “no” pile.

3. Claims made in campaign commercials for the candidates you favor. For some of them, the other side will say the claims are a matter of interpretation whether they’re true or not. For others, they’re just plain wrong.

For all of them, such letters most often turn into free advertising.

Indulge in some healthy skepticism and seek the truth with nonpartisan sources such as OpenCongress. Did he really vote for that law? Did the bill say what the commercial said it does? If you don’t know for sure, find out. An informed electorate is our best defense.

Cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle.

Cartoon by Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle.

4. Letters that parrot talking points. Parties and candidates often encourage supporters to send letters that include specific points they want to hit on, but that often results in letters that all look the same. When we see the same turns of phrase in multiple letters from multiple writers, it’s a huge red flag. If you’re going to include those talking points, at least back them up with examples.

Republicans are heartless? Tell us why. Democrats are the spawn of Satan? Prove it. OK, those aren’t talking points as far as I know (I could definitely be wrong), but they are pretty indicative of some of the letters we’ve gotten. You get the point.

Along those lines, John Vowell, whose letter appears in Wednesday’s edition (right under this column in the print edition), notes my “reluctance” to print letters critical of Mark Pryor.

While you may not agree with everything he's done over the years he's held political office, at least Mark Pryor seems to try to listen to Arkansas constituents, monied or not. Photo by Danny Johnston, Associated Press.

While you may not agree with everything he’s done over the years he’s held political office, at least Mark Pryor seems to try to listen to Arkansas constituents, monied or not. Photo by Danny Johnston, Associated Press.

Wait … what? What paper is he reading?

OK, let’s run the numbers (and darn you, sir, for making me do this). As with most topics, we received more letters about Pryor than we printed, but several (positive and negative) didn’t make it to print, mostly for the reasons cited above.

Of the 23 letters mentioning Mark Pryor that ran from Jan. 1 to March 15, two mentioned him only in passing, eight were positive in their remarks about him (35 percent), and 13 (57 percent) were negative, some exceedingly so. We also ran one each negative (by Sheffield Nelson) and positive (by Marion Berry) guest columns on Pryor.

No, I didn’t count words or column inches, but it’s safe to say the negative outweighed the positive.

So I guess he’s right, as clearly … uh … hmmm … never mind.

All right, he got me in counting mode, darn it, so let’s address another reader’s concern that we print far more atheist and agnostic letters than we do from Christians (or those speaking favorably of Christianity).

Image from Wikipedia of stained glass at St. John the Baptist's Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales. I'm fairly sure Jesus didn't command followers to inundate newspapers with letters to prove they're better Christians than everyone else. Maybe I missed that at Sunday School.

Image from Wikipedia of stained glass at St. John the Baptist’s Anglican Church, Ashfield, New South Wales.
I’m fairly sure Jesus didn’t command followers to inundate newspapers with cranky letters to prove they’re better Christians than everyone else. But maybe I slept through that lesson at Sunday School.

For the same time span as the Pryor letters, we printed 82 (!!) religious letters, 63 of which were of the latter variety, 18 from atheists or agnostics and one that was overall neutral.

Pardon me while I recover from the revelation that we printed that many religious letters in two and a half months.

January alone was a heavily religious month on the Voices page, claiming more than half the total (44 letters, 32 of which were Christian).

It’s months like that that earned us the moniker “Demogogue-Gazette” from at least one reader. (Thank you, dear reader, whoever you are. I needed a laugh that day.)

In case you thought it was hyperbole. This letter to the "Demogogue-Gazette" arrived in an envelope with no return address and a scrawled signature that appears to read "Jim Bob." I really love Jim Bob for this.

In case you thought it was hyperbole. This letter to the “Demogogue-Gazette” arrived in an envelope with no return address and a scrawled signature that appears to read “Jim Bob.”
I really love Jim Bob for this.

In both of these cases, it seems the readers have fallen victim to a sort of reverse confirmation bias in which they see only the letters with which they don’t agree.

Don't turn your back or close the closet door unless you really want 10,000 wire hangers by morning.  Image from creativity103.com.

Don’t turn your back or close the closet door unless you really want 10,000 wire hangers by morning.
Image from creativity103.com.

The same way one liberal letter on a page often turns into five somehow.

Kinda like wire clothes hangers (where do they all come from??).

****

Another reader brings up a policy matter, that of not printing anonymous letters.

While many online forums still allow anonymous comments, in our print edition we publish letters only from those willing to sign their names.

While good can come of information in unsigned letters as we do sometimes pass them along to the news side, they pose a problem for many letters editors.

The chief issue that confronts us is that of credibility. How would readers be assured that the writer isn’t actually the person the letter is about, or that the writer doesn’t have an ax to grind or would benefit from the publicity?

Sure, that letter COULD be from a whistle-blower ... or it could just be from a weird guy wearing a sack on his head who thinks he's funny. Image from Wikipedia.

Sure, that letter COULD be from a whistle-blower … or it could just be from a weird guy wearing a sack on his head who thinks he’s funny.
Image from Wikipedia.

Being willing to stand behind your words by identifying yourself instantly makes a letter more believable. Otherwise, people might think we just made these things up.

We get enough of that from the National Enquirer and TMZ (and fake TMZ … poor Wayne Knight). And Fox News.

I’ll give The Onion a pass this time since it’s usually funny.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The sting of rejection

  1. Verbification drives me up the wall, too. During the Olympics, I got sick of athletes managing to medal or podium. I also get very upset with mountaineers who summit. (Actually, of course, I applaud the achievements. I just hate how they are reported.) I’d keep a list of usages that annoy me, but who needs the additional stress?

    Like

    • We actually had an unwritten style rule on “authored” … don’t know if we still do since I’ve seen “authored” show up way too many times. I still expunge it wherever I see it on material for my page. Who or whom doesn’t bother me unless it’s obviously wrong, but verbed nouns will probably bother me even on my death bed. It’s one of the few things that bring out the grammar snob in me even though I try to keep a muzzle on her since she’s so annoying. 😉

      Like

  2. Surely you must have at least one desk drawer solely designated for antacids and other medicinal aids given your job description. Well, I suppose the good news out of all this for you is that those medications are something covered under Obamacare as relates to journalistic editors or did he lie about that also?

    Based on your informative article I was so glad to find out that we actually have citizenry self appointed statisticians who are on top of keeping an eye on local media outlets and editors such as yourself to ensure they meet the journalistic standards we have set for “ourselves”. It has always been my understanding that top notch newspapers were the guardians of truth and fairness when it comes to their journalistic endeavors. I’ve never been much for being one of those who would try keeping track of numbers reflecting those efforts but am thrilled that others have taken it upon themselves to do so.

    Although it has been a concern of mine for some years now that Christians may soon take over most of the nation’s newspapers, I had no idea how close we were to consummation of that take over. That does not bode well for us of independent or liberal persuasion. Fox News sure has kept this takeover quiet and for obvious reasons I suppose.

    Given the disclosures by you in your published article this morning and the deteriorating journalistic standards running “amok” in the media, I am seriously concerned as to where I can find factual and unbiased coverage of the world’s news. For concerned citizens such as myself, our best chance for unbiased as well as fact-based coverage would have been with the “Weekly World News” but they too were driven out of business by the right-wing conservatives.

    Oh, and lest I forget, I continue to wait with bated breath for the page-curling statistician to release their report. I do hope your newspaper does not try to bury that report under the guise of some legal pretense.

    Like

    • What?? No persnickety? I’m so disappointed, Alan. 😉
      Since I have IBS, most of my medications (other than those off the shelf) are indeed covered by insurance, which is a good thing … my stomach’s gurgling already.
      I, too, fear for our world and the scourge of statisticians (my mama warned me about them) trying to keep us journalistic types in line. How DARE we not be one-sided! Even worse, since the Weekly World News is gone, I have no idea what’s happened to Bat Boy! I MUST KNOW!!!!
      If you don’t hear from me in the next week, forget me as I’ve likely been dragged off to the gulag for the sin of having both journalistic integrity and a sense of humor.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s