For those who have read local Letters to the Editor over the decades, several titans are recognizable. My friend Byrna Weir‘s output has been prodigious, frequently drawing attention to environmental and health issues, as well as many a broadside against right-leaning politicians. Often seen in the Democrat and Chronicle, Byrna’s letters have appeared from the Golden Times to newspapers back in her home state of Maine.
Lynda Howland, who has written for the magazine, has been equally prolific, her passionate and informed letters gracing the D & C, the Messenger Post Newspapers, and the City. Lynda is at her best when exposing the often disastrous consequences of overly militaristic American foreign policy.
On the other side of the political spectrum was Dr. Morris Shapiro. Dr. Shapiro usually leaned to the Republican side and was a staunch defender of Israel. In In Memoriam: Morris Shapiro (1913-2016) you read his last letter, “Beware Trump’s nuclear view,” published posthumously on April 28th.
Perhaps the most successful has been Sam Abrams, Professor Emeritus of Language and Literature in the College of Liberal Arts, RIT. Sam’s letters have appeared not infrequently in The New York Times. I have even read a few in the London Review of Books. Although Sam can be a tad smug at moments, he has won his letter writing spurs. And some of his letters can be found on the Poets Walk on University Avenue.
Three weeks ago, Michael Nighan, our own letter writer (he calls himself a curmudgeonly letter writer but I beg to differ), made a well merited critique of a D & C editorial decision on its facebook page.
Today, he takes aim at the new D & C policy that seems to “impose a virtual ban on posting [printed Letters to the Editor] online” as yet another unreader friendly move by the newspaper.
Is Public Input to the D&C a Dead Letter?
Back in the Good Old Days (about 4 or 5 years ago) all it took to post a comment to an article in the online edition of the Democrat & Chronicle was to register with the paper. As a result, public comments, feedback and debates were numerous (sometimes over 100 to a single article) and free flowing.
Then came a pronunciamento from Gannett HQ scrapping the registration system and mandating that future comments would be limited to those having a Face Book account. Within days of that change, comments to the D&C dropped by 90%+, with the online Letters to the Editor (LttE) section becoming about the only avenue for public response that saw any traffic.
Fast forward to today. Until recently, the 4 or 5 LttEs published in the D&C print edition each day were also uploaded to their online edition, thus maintaining the public’s ability to comment. A couple of months ago however, the Powers That Be imposed a virtual ban on posting online LttEs. (As an FYI, as of May 18, six LttEs have appeared online in the last six WEEKS). It seems that encouraging public debate on public issues has gone the way of the Dodo ….or rather the way of the Gannett Building on Exchange Blvd.
(DISCLAIMER) I admit that over the past decade I’ve been one of those noodges who keeps sending missives from the masses, LttEs, to the D(eletion) & C(ensorhip). While several were published, most sank without a trace and became Dead Letters to the Editor. Quite by coincidence, what those (ahem) literary masterpieces had in common was that each took issue with the operations or opinions of the paper’s management. And acknowledging public criticism of their paper or the projects it supports is verboten at the D&C.
Take this example that was round-filed by the Editorial Department. It was submitted in response to the D&C’s giving extravagant attention to Mayor Bob Duffy’s proposal to rip out the Broad Street Bridge, “rewater” the underlying Erie Canal aqueduct, and turn the resulting area into a city park:
Nov. 16, 2009 To the Editor: Before we start popping champagne corks over the inevitable success of a re-watered Erie Canal aqueduct, would it be possible to find out what in god’s name the city intends to do with the traffic that currently uses the Broad Street Bridge? Certainly no one for a moment believes that it can be diverted to either the Court Street or the Main Street bridges (or even to 490) without major tie ups. And if additional construction on these bridges will be required when will the public be told and will that cost be factored into the price tag for “Duffy’s Ditch”? Perhaps if, at some point prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremonies, the city is generous enough to hold public hearings on the aqueduct proposal the taxpayers will be given the opportunity to see whether our elected officials learned from the Fast Ferry fiasco that hoopla and hype can’t compensate for the lack of a viable business case. Michael J. Nighan Rochester, NY
In this second instance, when I read recent D&C “soft news” stories describing a B&B on Lake Ontario selling for $1.5 million, and a home on Canandaigua Lake with a $7.1 million price tag, I was reminded of one of my Dead Letters from back during the Great Recession. Maybe I should dust it off and try again?
Jan. 10, 2009 To the Editor: What was the purpose behind the D&C’s recent puff piece on Dick Sand’s expensive new house on Canandaigua Lake? A sensitive editor would have grasped the simple fact that, with Rochester’s shaky economy eroding even further and with more and more people getting laid off and losing their homes, this might not be the best time to run an article about some CEO’s 6,700 sq, ft,. 6 bed room, SECOND home. In any event, thanks for the “news” that Sands’ commute time from House 2 is about the same as it is from House 1. I for one am thrilled !
Michael J. Nighan Rochester, NY