Do letters to the editor stifle real discourse?

Over the past couple of weeks, I have happened upon one of the most interesting yet difficult questions that I have dealt with throughout my year as editor in chief. The issue relates to our letters to the editor page in the Opinion section. Letters to the editor have traditionally been a mainstay of any newspaper's Op/Ed section, as they serve the important purpose of allowing individuals not directly involved with the paper to offer their opinions on issues, either directly reported on in the paper or not, and have those views presented to the reading audience.

Trivial as it might seem to an outsider, one of the greatest joys that I have experienced this academic year has been a huge increase in the number of letters that have been offered to us for consideration. Some we have run, others we have not, but the rise is encouraging to us as we see it as a sign of community members' growing confidence in The Lamron as an important facet of campus-wide discourse. It also suggests that the items being reported on truly matter to readers, which is essentially the highest goal to which any newspaper can aspire.

Recently, however, The Lamron has been subject to criticism (in the form of a letter to the editor, ironically, and in comments posted on our Web site at www.thelamron.com) concerning the publication of letters from the College Republicans disapproval of the recent peace vigil, and another student's view that the College is too hostile to conservative views.

The purpose of this column isn't to bash an opposing argument but to agree that this is a very real concern and a tough call: to what extent is The Lamron guilty of encouraging partisan fighting with staccato outbursts of sentiment, and thus not facilitating true discourse on an issue as divisive as the war in Iraq and the liberal/conservative/everything in between question? And how should this be weighed against the reality of the paper's position as the preeminent media source on campus, and its inherent ability to disseminate ideas that some view as true, while others dismiss as polarizing and counter-productive? Should a letter submitted with a particularly stringent or critical position not be published because it doesn't directly encourage individuals to truly discuss their differences?

There's really no easy answer to these questions. While our editorial board does feel strongly that community members should take advantage of the opportunity to have their voice be heard through a letter to the editor, at the same time, we do not want to see a campus mired by strife among those with opposing views. My overall feeling on the issue, however, is that without the involvement of the paper, direct articulation of the certain views of particular groups and individuals might have never have come to light.

While a campus-wide dialogue on issues is certainly something to aspire to, how else can such a dialogue be started other than by a straightforward expression of sentiments that many can be exposed to? It obviously cannot be The Lamron's place to directly facilitate a sit-down between opposing sides, but I would like to think that we're helping people to take the first step towards doing that. After that, it's up to those who have expressed ideas on that particular issue to take action.

So there you have it. Think I'm a terrible editor? Crazy? In the infamous words of Jon Stewart, a partisan hack? Maybe you should write a letter to the editor.

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