Our View: Opinion can incite anger or actionSometimes, when people finish reading the newspaper, they are angry. That’s OK. It means they’ve been challenged in some way, that the status quo has been disturbed, that the switch that ignites a passionate response has been flipped.
By: Jana Peterson and Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Sometimes, when people finish reading the newspaper, they are angry.
That’s OK. It means they’ve been challenged in some way, that the status quo has been disturbed, that the switch that ignites a passionate response has been flipped.
Most of the time, it’s the opinion page that’s the culprit.
By its very nature, most items on the opinion page of a newspaper won’t be universally liked. The cartoon that amuses a staunch Democrat may upset a Republican, the letter that makes a young adult chuckle may inspire disgust in his or her grandmother.
Many people were upset about the letter published in last week’s Pine Journal alleging that race played a role in playing time decisions made by a local basketball coach. Others will, no doubt, be upset about a letter in this week’s paper discussing complaints about a local hockey coach.
In an ideal world, those who are annoyed by last week’s letter would respond in writing to the newspaper or directly to the letter writer. If his reading of the situation is wrong, educate him and other readers.
The worst thing — in our opinion — is to remain silent in the face when unjustly criticized. The idea that someone should not respond to criticism in a rational manner because explaining one’s actions is somehow “stooping to a lower level,” is ludicrous.
Yes, if someone is shouting obscenities, the correct response is not to shout obscenities back. But if someone feels wronged, and takes the time to express that notion either at a public meeting or in a public forum like the opinion page of a newspaper, one would hope he (or she) would get an answer from those in the know.
Granted, it’s often easier in the short term if people don’t ruffle feathers or make controversial allegations. If they just accept the status quo and go on with their daily lives. If they don’t write letters that upset people. If they don’t bring up difficult topics like racism or abuse.
Long term, however, that’s not what builds a healthy democracy.
Journalism has long been known as the Fourth Estate, meaning it ranks right up there with clergy and the heads of state in shaping the political complexion of our country. Elevating the profession of journalism to that level ascribes to it the sort of power that sometimes makes folks nervous. In fact, Oscar Wilde once wrote, “In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the Press.”
But the force that empowers the media to that degree is the people it serves — the ones who make the news, run the meetings, live out their everyday lives in the local communities, and yes, voice their opinions for the rest of the public to consider and debate in the form of letters to the editor.
A community newspaper must fill many roles. We try to keep the public educated about decisions that might affect their lives and upcoming events they may want to attend. We cover everything from Easter egg hunts to championship hockey games. We sit through meetings about popular and unpopular topics, regardless of the projected attendance. We report on crimes after they happen and (ideally) follow the case to its conclusion.
On the opinion page, we offer our own thoughts on issues of local interest. We also provide readers and others the same opportunity to voice their opinions (provided they aren’t patently libelous), as long as they sign their first and last name (which we publish) and a phone number (which we don’t publish, but use to verify that they wrote the letter and intended it be printed in the paper).
If something you see in the paper upsets you because you know for a fact that it’s wrong — morally or factually — then you should respond and explain why that idea is wrong.
It takes courage to put yourself out there, but it’s worth it, isn’t it?
Jana Peterson and Wendy Johnson