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January 4, 2004
Pioneer Press: We're Onto You

Art Coulson, editor-in-chief of our smaller but significantly more intelligent local newspaper, the Pioneer Press, writes in today's Opinion section that they have had enough of canned letters to the editor:

We welcome letters to the editor from readers on just about any topic and written from just about any perspective. ... What we don't welcome, and won't publish if we can help it, are letters signed by but not written by the sender. These include forwards of messages bouncing around the Internet, cut-and-paste jobs from political Web sites and outright frauds sent by special interest organizations over false names and addresses.

For some reason during this particular election cycle, activists on all sides have discovered the Letters to the Editor section of their local newspapers and insist on filling them with all sorts of one-off blurbs for their candidate or cause du jour. Instead of featuring reader response to stories that the papers have run, readers get sloganeering on the cheap, and inevitably each side gets the same number of these missives in each edition, sort of an equal-time rule for the Letters section.

As a blogger, of course, I don't feel the need or the inclination to write letters to newspapers any longer except on those occasions where I disagree with content so strongly that I feel a rebuttal should appear on their own pages. In fact, last night I submitted my first such response in months to the Star Tribune in response to the exercise in futile bitterness that they ran today in their Opinion section, although I submitted it as a Counterpoint, which allows for a longer word count. They may or may not print it, but the Star Tribune does have a good track record on running strongly opposed responses to their editorials.

What neither paper will print is plagiarism, the newest fad among the Letters set. Websites for causes or candidates are no longer satisfied with pushing their supporters to write their own letters -- now they put the letters fully written on the websites and ask their followers to send them into the paper with their own names and addresses. I receive several e-mails a month urging me in on this action, and I'm amazed that people respond to it. In my mind, it would be an admission that not only am I unable to write for myself, but also that I can't think for myself.

Art Coulson agrees with this and puts it in rather unique terms:

Think about it this way: Would you allow your children to cut and paste someone else's words from the Internet and submit them to their teachers as their own work? ... We editorial board types have a name for these letters — "astroturf," as in fake grass roots.

After all, if causes feel like they need plagiarism to promote them, then the credibility of both the cause and its supporters are destroyed. Let's leave the Letters section to the readers who write their own and focus on better uses of our time.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 4, 2004 8:54 AM

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