So let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you’re irked.
Vexed, maybe. Flummoxed. Curious. Vitriolic. Confounded. Inspired. Disgusted. Flabbergasted. Disconsolate. Irascible. Even on some (rare) occasions, appreciative.
Common emotions, all, in These Troubled Times (patent pending). And to one degree or another, all valid.
The common response in the age of anti-social media: Tie your high horse off at the nearest online bitchin’ post and let fly with a screed — almost always under a fake name.
It’s understandable, and typical. But it’s not really our way.
From its inception, Cascadia Daily News has realized that attempts to steer the above course on a societal scale are likely futile. But we also have vowed to avoid adding to the momentum of the releasing of that uncivil-discourse genie from the bottle. We strive to do our small part to promote civil discussion of issues in a more traditional format.
Because we don’t have the time nor inclination to read and approve people’s unsigned digital missives, we don’t allow reader comments on our website.
Sorry, not sorry. The digital world provides ample other places to engage in ad-hominem attacks and engage in the wonders of fallacious argument (leading the modern pop charts: post hoc, ergo propter hoc, or “after this, therefore because of this,” and the timeless classic straw man fallacy).
Instead, we make extra efforts to attract and facilitate readers’ thoughts, opinions and questions through a decidedly old-fashioned means: Letters to the editor.
We not only accept these but welcome them. We see their longtime absence in a professionally produced local newspaper as being an abrogation of an important journalistic role in our community.
When CDN was fueling up the digital rockets for a spring launch, we hoped that the lack of a broadly-circulated public outlet for such discourse might have created a backlog, of sorts. This seems to have been true.
CDN’s letters “section” was partially full before it was even a section: We received a handful not long after the official announcement of our creation, and more arrived throughout the fall once we began staffing up and designing the newspaper you’re looking at right now. Thus, our very first digital edition included letters to the editor, as has every one since.
In the 17 weeks since our online launch at Cascadiadaily.com, we’ve published about 90 letters — an average of five or six per week. Somewhat as expected, the pace has picked up since our print newspaper made its debut on March 4. This is owing, I believe, to the print paper’s presence on coffee shop tables, bus seats and home kitchen counters.
You see it; it’s real, you talk to it. Bravo.
This steady flow of discourse established two things, both meaningful: Our readership is a highly engaged community, with many citizens willing to put their name publicly behind an opinion. And those folks trust us enough to handle their opinions in a responsible manner.
That’s a welcome sign, and we hope we're filling a community need.
The tradeoff, of course, is a few simple rules: We ask that your letter have a point (it's subjective, yes; we err on the side of freedom of expression) and make it clearly. That you keep it civil and address ideas rather than attack people. That you get in and get out in about 300 words (Yes, a change from our original guideline of 400 words, which too many people were pushing to the max. Note that longer treatises of up to 800 words may be submitted as guest commentaries. But shorter is often better.)
And — sit down for this, internet anarchists — we also require that you provide us with sufficient info to verify your signed identity as best we can. We will only publish a letter writer’s name and city or neighborhood, but require submissions to include a phone number and physical address to confirm your identity, and that you — not someone using your name — personally sent us a letter.
We’ve already had the circular-argument discussion with a few readers about the free-speech wonders of pseudonyms, their historic value in U.S. democracy, and public recriminations for issuing public opinions.
That’s a real thing and we get it; we attach our names to our work every day and know all too well what often comes with that, in this age of personal attacks and vitriol. But we believe the benefits of name verification outweigh the negatives. (And sorry, but the content we've seen pitched by would-be pen-named writers doesn't exactly feel Ben Franklinesque.)
My own experience as a career journalist and columnist is that people tend to be more to the point, civil, thoughtful and reasonable when writing opinions that they’re willing to back up with their own names.
As already stated, those who disagree have plenty of other outlets for opinions they don’t feel strongly enough about to attach their names to. As a private media company seeking to do our part to provide a public forum while ferreting out disinformation, we choose to not be among those. Many of our readers say they appreciate that.
So that’s our system. The upshot is that if you submit a letter, you might get a phone call from me or a staff member, verifying said letter and just saying hello. (Many letter writers seem surprised that this occurs — sometimes pleasantly — and we don’t mean to bother you. We’re just looking for assurance that you are who you say you are.)
We look forward to hearing from and talking to many more of you in days ahead. If you’ve got a means to write or type, we’re all ears. Check out the submission info on our letters page in print, or our FAQ online, and let ‘er rip at email@example.com.
Ron Judd's column appears Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: roncjudd.