Thursday, September 01, 2005

Clearing Things Up

After wondering earlier this week if a letter to the editor in the N-S from Matt Kelty that praised Gov. Daniels' first few months in office ought to have been accompanied by some background information on Kelty (namely, that he unsuccessfully ran -- as a Republican -- for a seat in the state legislature in 2002). Today Leo Morris commented on that post.
The plain truth is I didn't make the connection when I saw Kelty's name. I've written about hundreds of candidates over the years and seen letters from thousands of people. Sometimes a light goes on, and sometimes it doesn't. If I had made the connection, I might have included an editor's note saying that Kelty had once sought political office as a Republican, but no more than that.

Sometimes a letter writer's background or circumstances are critical to readers' ability to put the comments in perspective. If someone is writing about plans to dredge the Maumee, for example, it would be helpful to know if the writer is either a zealous environmentalist or a contractor who lost out on the bid, rather than an ordinary resident just commenting on something of public interest. Most of the time, though, the writers' circumstances are irrelevant. If I get a letter about smoking restrictions in restaurants, I'm not going to call him up and find out if he's a smoker or not.

Generally I like to just let the letter writers have at it. "Ideas can't be held responsible for th4e people wjo hold them" is a pretty good rule -- just let the good arguments drive out the bad ones.

Craig is right that guest editorials -- or guest columns, as we call them -- should have a higher standard. By giving them better display space, we're telling readers they're more important, so the "why somebody is writing this" becomes more important.

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