Dear Reader | Voicing a view should not be a venue for name calling, and other Opinion page opinions

Dear ReaderApril 28, 2014 

Carolyn Murray, editor for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Enough already with the name calling.

I realize that the recipe for political analysis these days -- on TV and the Internet, on the left and the right -- includes about one part information and three parts innuendo and what the pundits believe are cleverly worded, but not necessarily backed by fact, insults. Many of those insults involve the kinds of speech kids are (or should be) disciplined for using on the playground.

A significant chunk of my job each day is to dig through the many letters to the editor we receive at The Sun News. I am grateful to have such a vocal and engaged readership. But referring to someone who holds a different view as a “flaming liberal,” a “slut,” “the sub-human republican party,” does nothing to help anyone understand your view. All it does is anger them into spitting out their Cheerios in disgust and moving on to someone who thinks more as they do. (And yes, those are excerpts from real letters to The Sun News.)

I frequently get the playground ditty “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” stuck in my brain as I’m shoveling through these letters, trying to edit out the most incendiary comments and still maintain the point of the letter. Sadly, often the incendiary comments are the point of the letter. And while words may not cause physical bruises, they do have a cumulative effect on a person’s psyche, philosophy and willingness to listen to another perspective.

The aim of a newspaper’s opinion page is to encourage readers to share a variety of those perspectives and (and this is the important part) the reasons they have come to hold them. Those reasons should be something more thoughtful than a regurgitation of something they heard someone else say.

My aim is to publish letters that illustrate the well-thought-out opinions of the people who make up and want to offer suggestions on what should be done to improve, correct or applaud what’s happening in our community and our world. In other words, we are allegedly a civilized nation, so let’s keep our discourse that way too.

I’ll leave you with this quote, to replace the “Sticks and Stones” earworm I gave you earlier:

“If you can't answer a man's argument, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names.” --attributed to Elbert Hubbard, 1859-1915, a writer and publisher called “one of the most influential forces in American business as the new century opened and the Roycroft artisan community that he founded in East Aurora, New York was the first and most successful purveyor of Arts and Crafts in the nation,” by PBS, which produced a documentary on him.

Engaged and prolific

I mentioned that our letter writers are engaged, but I failed to mention how prolific they are, another characteristic for which I am grateful.

But it also means that we receive eight to 10 new local letters a day; some of them short and some that read more like essays. An average Opinion page usually has room for three to four short letters and one longer essay, along with the editorial and cartoon. So you can see why yours may not get in right away. Or at least I hope you can.

In general, I try to publish them in the order in which they arrived, changing that up if I realize something relates to a topic that is coming to a vote soon. But I am unable to read all of those that arrive each day, so sometimes I miss that perfect window of opportunity.

My philosophy is to err on the side of publishing, rather than not publishing but as I noted in the earlier section, I reserve the right to omit letters that don’t, as a former editor of mine used to say, “add something to the sum of human knowledge.”

Caring for our community

In recent weeks, the staff at The Sun News has had fun with events that also left us feeling we did something for the greater good of our neighbors.

Most recently, many of us donated money or went shopping to fill May Day baskets destined for area senior citizens as part of a program coordinated by the United Way of Horry County. We participate in this each year because we love the idea of helping our older residents (after all, we’ll all be there one day too, if we’re lucky), just as we love participating in the Christmas Angel Tree sponsored by the Salvation Army.

We also had some departmental competition in raising money for the March of Dimes, and I’m happy to say the Newsroom team won that one thanks to the generosity of the penny hoarders in our midst, especially designer/copyeditor extraordinaire Amanda Criswell. A pancake breakfast for the staff also was a moneymaker for the charity, and a team will soon be taking part in the annual walk, this in memory of the daughter of our Human Resources Manager Kimberly Gary and her husband Ron.

Contact CAROLYN CALLISON MURRAY at cmurray@thesunnews.com or follow her on Twitter at TSN_ccmurray.

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