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It's Al's Turn: Don't attack paper for printing letters

The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

Our turn
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We are part of The Trust Project.

Pop quiz.

If you don’t agree with something on our Opinion page, do you:

A. Get angry about the viewpoint, but accept the fact that others may hold a different opinion than your own.
B. Use our Facebook page or Messenger to slam the newspaper for printing such drivel.
C. Send an anonymous note accusing the newspaper of bias or being too liberal or too conservative.
D. Write a letter that presents your own view.

In my 30-plus years as the editor of our Opinion page, I’m saddened to say that more and more readers seem to be falling into the B or C category.

It’s as if people are forgetting a key pillar of the First Amendment – the freedom of expression. This is a valuable, powerful right and one that this newspaper vigorously defends by printing letters from all viewpoints, from the far right, the far left and everywhere in between.

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The newspaper does not pick and choose which letters to print based on a person’s political stance. We print them all as long as they meet basic guidelines. A letter, for example, can’t be libelous. This would not only put the newspaper at risk of being sued but the letter-writer as well. Letters must also be signed (we don’t print anonymous letters) and they can’t attack private individuals. Note that word “private.” Public figures and officials, such as those elected into office or ordinary people who are thrust into the limelight are more open to the slings and arrows from the public, as determined by our court system.

Another misconception people have about the Opinion page is that the newspaper is writing the letters or that a letter is an “article” or “story” that the newspaper created. This, of course, is completely untrue, yet readers, mainly those on Facebook, often accuse us of this. We’ve since addressed this problem by including this disclaimer at the top of each letter on our website: “The following is a letter to the editor submitted to the newspaper by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press. To submit a letter, send it to aedenloff@echopress.com or Echo Press, P.O. Box 549, Alexandria, MN 56308.”

I’m glad to see that this simple step has made a big dent in the accusations of newspaper bias, but every now and then, a Facebook follower will still get mixed up and call a letter a biased story. Fortunately, when they do make that mistake, other readers will quickly point out that this was an opinion piece, not an article or story. I give a big thank you to our Facebook defenders for that!

Back to the quiz, I understand why people would opt for the “A” answer. It makes sense and underscores the point that 100% agreeability is not attainable. And it shouldn’t be. Can you imagine a world where everyone held the same opinions on everything?

So that leaves us with the “D” answer. I wish more readers would choose this option. Instead of blowing up over a letter or blaming the paper for printing it, readers should just take a few deep breaths, maybe walk away from it for a bit, and then put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write a letter to the editor.

That’s what the Opinion page is really about: Sharing opinions, having a respectful dialogue, getting into the issues and gaining a better understanding of what others in our community are thinking.

So please, write a letter. It’ll make you feel a lot better.

“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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