In an era of the “fake news” mantra, verification and accountability are far more important than ever before for news organizations like the East Oregonian. We boast a variety of procedures to ensure that what you do see and read in the paper is as close to the truth as possible.
A good case in point regarding verification and truth is our letters to the editor policy. We welcome letters to the editor. Even now, in the digital age and the ascendancy of social media, a good, vibrant letters to the editor section is a sign that your local newspaper is doing its job.
The key piece of our letters to the editor policy is the fact all letters we print must come with the individuals’ name, address and phone number. That’s so we can verify the individual exists. On a blog or on some social media bulletin board, or other “media outlets,” such important items as verification may not be as important (or are nonexistent) but with a daily and most weekly newspapers such issues are critical.
That’s because, at the end of the day, we want to provide a discourse for our readers, but that discourse can’t be a free-for-all.
In my experience, running an anonymous letter to the editor is not only foolish, but just plain bad journalism. There are probably plenty of justifications for printing an unattributed letter to the editor — though I can’t think of one — but for us it is just bad policy.
We’ve moved too far down the road in this nation where the passive-aggressive can hide behind a Facebook chat screen or anonymous online comment section to spew hate and lies. We tolerate it — why I don’t know — and often shrug it off. We shouldn’t.
Especially in a place like Eastern Oregon where a person’s word is their bond. Eastern Oregon is an area where values, such as integrity and commitment, are learned at an early age and promoted vigorously. When someone has something important to say, even if it is controversial, they should have the fortitude to back it up with their name.
When someone doesn’t do that, it is a copout. And I question any “media outlet” that would print an unsigned letter and its commitment to journalism.
We won’t print letters to the editor without a name and address and phone number for lots of reasons, but one of those is we must at least know the writer is a real person, with a real complaint or idea.
It may be a clunky process, but it ensures, at the end of the day, that our readers are not going to be short-changed.