Public Service Announcement

Public Service Announcement

thou new

 Michael J. Nighan

Anyone who reads the Letters to the Editor published in the Democrat & Chronicle (no longer an easy thing to do since such Letters have been drastically cut back from seven to two days a week, and are no longer posted to the paper’s Facebook page, where public input was at one time valued) may have noticed that Letters critical of the D&C’s operations and views have been as scare as recent ferry trips to Toronto from the boondoggled terminal in Charlotte. The question of why there are no such Letters was indirectly answered a few days ago when I exchanged e-mails with the D&C’s “Senior Engagement Editor”, an exchange prompted by last week’s childish act of vandalism where some clod submitted his/her opinion of the paper’s veracity via spray paint on a plate glass window. So, as a Public Service Announcement, I’d like to provide information on what I learned so that anyone inclined to submit a Letter to the Editor expressing disapproval of the D&C may know the arbitrary obstacles which will doom their attempt. In response to my assertion that the D&C seemed to have a policy of censoring Letters which were critical of the paper’s operations, views, etc., I received the following:

 “… we actually welcome and highly encourage letters that are in opposition to our editorials or other opinion content. These letters, of course, must be based on fact, offer substantiating evidence and meet our submission guidelines. We regularly print opposing viewpoints.”  

Such a statement brought four points to mind:

1. Obviously the D&C management has reserved solely unto themselves the determination of what is, or is not, a “fact” or “substantiating evidence” (*).   And of course the determination of the judges is final, and there is no appeal.

2.  We should pass by in embarrassed silence any claim that they “regularly print” Letters taking exception to their positions. As stated above, few, if any, such Letters have ever appeared in print. Indeed, a review of the 59 Letters published in the last month reveals a grand total of ONE (1) letter (published on October 7) which could remotely be termed critical of the D&C, and only to the extent that it disagreed with the opinions expressed by one of the paper’s columnists. Significantly, that Letter provided nothing factual or any evidence substantiating the writer’s views. Amusingly enough, a Letter praising the actions of the D&C was published the same day. It will come as no surprise that it too failed to provide a shred of fact or evidence. Just the writer’s glowing opinion of the paper.

3. In the years-long absence of any evidence, dare I say substantiating evidence, to back it up, the D&C’s claim that, “we actually welcome and highly encourage” Letters critical of the paper remains little more than self-serving, journalistic bombast.

4. It appears from the response I received that the D&C only requires “facts” and “substantiating evidence” for Letters which directly criticize the D&C. Any politician, any business, any act of government, any person, place or thing on the planet EXCEPT the D&C, may be, and are on a weekly basis, criticized without “facts” or “substantiating evidence” being required. The consistent application of standards is conveniently ignored.

Given the above, I find it somewhere between sanctimonious and just plan sad that the Democrat & Chronicle waves around First Amendment freedoms by printing that amendment at the top of their opinion page, while simultaneously making it virtually impossible for dissenting views of the paper to find their way into print. Rather than arbitrarily forcing their undefined definition of “facts” and “substantiating evidence” into public discourse, the community would be better     served if the paper replaced the First Amendment with a quote from Lincoln Chafee: Trust is built with consistency.”


(*) Buried in the shrunken, twice weekly, sad and sorry remains of the D&C’s Opinion/Speaking Out page, is the warning notice that, “All letters and essays chosen for publication are subject to editing for length, clarity, and accuracy.”  “Clarity” and “accuracy”, like “facts” and “substantiating evidence”, being defined  when, and as, the Powers That Be see fit.


Is Public Input to the D&C a Dead Letter? by Michael Nighan

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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