JIM CREES: A little civility would be nice

So you want to write a letter to the editor.

Please do.

We encourage it.

We believe in it.

We appreciate the free exchange of ideas.

But then ... we get a whole bunch of letters — lots of them — that we don’t publish for one reason or the other, and folks get really, REALLY upset.

We have been accused of violating people’s right of free speech by not printing a letter to the editor.

We have actually had folks file (or threaten to file) complaints with the office of the Attorney General for not publishing their letters.

Look, it doesn’t work that way. A newspaper is not a component unit of government.

A quick review of high school Civics 101 might be of benefit to those getting so upset over the non-publication of their letters that they want to file a complaint with someone.

But rather than lecture, allow me to make a few suggestions as to how you can make sure your Letter to the Editor will be published (and not thumb-tacked to my hate mail board with all the other angry letters).

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ADDRESS A TOPIC OR POLICY

That’s what we do on the Opinion Page. We have columnists (including yours truly) who write about issues of the day in hopes that we will give you food for thought. It’s just one opinion.

You may not agree with a specific columnist — me, for example — and that’s OK. That’s good.

I don’t even agree with everything I place on the Opinion Page. I don’t.

Heck, despite what far too many people seem to think, we have a lot more right leaning opinion on the Opinion Page than we do left of liberal writing.

That’s OK too. I enjoy a diversity of opinions — even if they drive me to distraction.

BUT ... if you want to write about a column or something you have read on our local news pages, stick to the topic.

The second you start slagging off the columnist or reporter personally is the same second your letter gets spiked.

The fact that you don’t agree with what I write does not mean I am “ ... lacking in any journalistic integrity.” The fact that we don’t see eye to eye on some policy or issue does not give you some Constitutional right to call me or anyone else on staff a “liar” and worse (much worse) in the newspaper.

I simply hold an opinion differing from yours.

You are more than welcome to address the topic on which I or any other columnist or reporter has opined or written, but the minute the discussion disintegrates into a personal attack is when you have limited your access to a public forum.

It’s all about civility. We can all disagree agreeably.

If you write a letter claiming a reporter is biased and untruthful because she reported on a meeting exactly as she experienced that session, but not the way YOU think it should have been reported, it will not be published. The reporters on staff at the Pioneer are not “liars” or “biased” simply because your version of events didn’t gibe with theirs.

In a limited amount of space, they are charged with getting a concise version of the real news and information generated in that same meeting out to the reading public.

This certainly may not be your version of the meeting, but I will stand by their description ferociously.

You are more than welcome to address the issues discussed at a meeting or in any other news article or opinion column, but you will not be allowed to either cast aspersions on the honesty or integrity of the news staff, or take cheap hit-and-run pot shots at the people sitting behind the table up front.

You can disagree with a superintendent of a school district without him being a “Nazi” or a “mental terrorist.”

We won’t give you that forum.

BE FACTUAL

Don’t write someone has stolen thousands of dollars from the community till, or committed unspeakable crimes and expect me to print such claims without checking.

Calling someone, especially a public official, a thief or an abuser can ruin their lives, and we won’t have a hand in such an act.

Do you remember the old kids rhyme, “Stick and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”?

WRONG! Words can hurt you ... a lot.

Don’t write a letter filled with angry and challengable accusations and expect it to be printed without us vetting the same.

We will not promulgate misinformation and untruths simply because you feel you have a right to say something.

DON’T EXPECT TO BE ANONYMOUS

Everything we write has our name on it. Every one of my opinion pieces, no matter how annoying you may think they are, has my name on it.

If you want to take a literary shot at the mayor, or some teacher, or your neighbor, have enough courage to put your name on the letter. (We probably won’t run it anyway, but at least have the courage of your convictions.)

In short, we welcome Letters to the Editor, and if yours hasn’t been printed, it’s probably because you decided to insult or disparage someone, or make spurious and unverifiable claims.

If you’re civil, respectful, and to-the-point, we will be glad to give you space in our paper.

And that’s a promise, not just an opinion.