It’s 2009 and change is in the air here at Wednesday Journal as I’m relinquishing the reins on the Viewpoints section for the second time in the last five years.
Marty Stempniak will be the new Viewpoints editor, so letters and One Views should be sent directly to him- firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re e-mailing, to his attention if you’re faxing (708-524-0447), and with his name on the envelope if you’re snail-mailing (141 S. Oak Park Ave. 60302).
Change, as they say, is the only constant, and over the years, Viewpoints has changed. Most of our letters now come through e-mail or via online responses (WednesdayJournalOnline.com).
A couple of things though haven’t changed:
1) Wednesday Journal has the liveliest letters section of any newspaper in the entire country. No, I haven’t read every newspaper, but I defy anyone to show me one that’s livelier. 2) We remain committed to letting all sides have their say.
What has changed, with the economic downturn, is that we no longer have as many pages to devote to letting everyone have their say. In the past, our goal was to print as many letters as we possibly could (even if it sometimes took several months to get them in).
Unfortunately, space limitations have forced us to be more selective. We still aim to get all letters posted online, but we won’t be able to get them all in print. I hate that, but we just don’t have the space.
Brevity helps. To that end, we’re tightening the word count. From now on, we’re asking that letters be no more than 250 words, and One View essays will be limited to 500 words. I know that’s hard for the long-winded among us (including me), but I also know from experience that whenever I prevail on letter-writers to shorten their submissions, they almost invariably respond that the shorter version is an improvement.
Though most of you have probably never read it, our Viewpoints policies are spelled out in the fine print on the opposite page in the bottom right corner. You’ll notice the deadline for letters is now Thursday by 5 p.m. That’s a day earlier, but Viewpoints regulars know the deadline is mostly a formality. Given the backlog of letters we are forced to maintain, we can never guarantee that a letter will be printed the Wednesday after it is received. That’s regrettable, but it’s the reality when you have a readership as opinionated-and as literate-as ours.
Having such a readership is a wonderful thing, and I’ve never forgotten that it’s a privilege to edit the Viewpoints section. Nowhere else can you find proof, week after week, that there’s hope for democracy. At the same time, week after week, I find proof that a lot of intelligent, articulate people need an editor. I’ve always made an effort to clean up letters, hopefully without changing the meaning. I don’t do it for the letter-writers. I do it for the readers. This section is meant to be read, and I’ve always tried to make that read as painless as possible.
Being editor of a section devoted almost entirely to subjectivity is, ironically, an excellent exercise in objectivity. I’m in the unusual position of writing headlines, for instance, like “Trainor is a liar,” in which I take a certain perverse pleasure. I also try to include criticism of Wednesday Journal in a timely manner, even when I strongly disagree with that opinion, because it’s healthy for us to hear it.
Being rather opinionated myself, it won’t surprise you to hear that I have developed opinions about how writers argue their points. Too often they resort to emotion and not enough to reason. But I know people get emotional about important issues, and I wrestle with that myself. There’s also too much conspiratorial thinking. In my experience, human beings aren’t well organized enough for vast conspiracies of any wing. I also don’t think people are so diabolical and nefarious. Mostly, we are underinformed, overemotional, and mistake prone. God knows we’ve made our share of mistakes here at the paper over the years. I have anyway.
But there’s nothing wrong with a little passionate intensity. I often say we’re full-service journalists. People need to vent. That alone makes Viewpoints one of the most important sections we offer.
The thing I like least about letter-writers is the tendency to dismiss an opponent’s argument without rebutting it-as if expressing contempt for an opinion were enough to discredit it. If you can’t rebut your opponent with reasonable counter-arguments, the other side wins, no matter how creatively you sneer at him. We could all do with a tutorial on effective arguing.
BUT MY BIGGEST PEEVE IS WRITERS WHO USE ALL CAPS FOR EMPHASIS, FOLLOWED BY SERIAL EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! They make you look like a nutcase-or would if I let your letter go into print that way. Instead, I have to retype the entire sentence, which doesn’t do a thing for my objectivity.
All this is now Marty’s headache. I will, of course, keep writing this column, infuriating some, delighting others, and diligently trying to reach all the readers in between.
Please keep reading … and writing.