Here’s to our letter writers

Published 8:21 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Another year is all but gone, and as it passes I want to thank some very special people — the writers of Letters to the Editor.

Every week, of every year, Letters to the Editor are among the most sought-after material in this and every newspaper that’s worth its salt.

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We can write what we hope are insightful editorials and and we can cover Isle of Wight County like a blanket with news stories to keep you informed. And we do try on both counts. But an important barometer of how well we are doing, and how engaged our readers are, is the weekly Letters column.

This year, we published more than 400 letters. (That’s been the average for the past four years.) Almost all of them written by Smithfield Times readers and the vast majority of them dealing with local issues in Isle of Wight and Surry.

Some writers chastise us failing to cover something of interest to the letter writer or for being, in the writer’s view, biased in one direction or another. A few praise our work. Many more — the majority— speak not necessarily of our reporting, but of the underlying issues in the community that interest the letter writer.

We have our regular writers, and we appreciate them. They have either recurring concerns about the community or the nation. We never know what’s coming next from them. Equally important are the occasional writers who have a specific interest or concern they want to share.

Some writers become what might be termed a bit long-winded and we shorten their letters. And occasionally, but not often, we receive one that so viciously attacks someone that we simply cannot use the material — and we don’t.

In that regard, we have noticed a trend in the past decade. There is a greater tendency today for letter writers to be angry — and sometimes, mad as hell — than there was 15 or 20 years ago. I think it has to do with increasing the use of social media. Folks feel as though they can say most anything on the Internet, and some are beginning to wonder why they can’t do the same thing in the newspaper.

Let’s just say that we will continue to insist on a level of civility — dare we say decorum — that is often lacking in cyberspace.

So, to all our letter writers — the bomb throwers as well as the kinder, gentler observers — thank you. Your contribution each week makes The Smithfield Times truly a platform for the discussion of community issues. The paper can serve no higher purpose.