I don’t know if you share my opinion about this — of if you’ve even noticed — but it seems to me that the letters to the editor page of The Kansas City Star has gotten kind of moldy.
There’s too much lag time between the articles that triggered the letters and publication of the letters. As a result, the letters page has become increasingly dull over the last several months.
I’ve been thinking about this lately, and on Thursday I decided to run a little test on the timeliness of letters that ran Wednesday and Thursday.
Here’s what I found: On those two days, a total of seven letters included parenthetical references to articles that generated the letters. (Some letters are about ongoing stories or situations and not pegged to specific stories.)
Of the seven, five referred to articles that had been published at least two weeks ago.
To me, that’s pretty bad.
I decided to compare that with the letters that appeared Wednesday and Thursday in The New York Times. On those two days, The Times published a total of 10 letters containing parenthetical references to articles that prompted the letters.
Of the 10, nine were published within eight days of the published articles.
To me, that’s pretty good.
What is the upshot for readers? In my opinion, The Star’s letters page has a dated, heavy feel to it, where The Times’ page is lively and topical.
Hate to say it, but that applies to the two papers in their entirety, too. Of course, The Star, like almost all second-tier dailies, has suffered terribly from contraction and readership loss, while the top-tier, national publications — The Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today — have held up somewhat better.
I must confess that one of the reasons I decided to run the test is that I submitted a letter to the editor on Sunday (Aug. 15) about a column that day by E. Thomas McClanahan of the editorial staff. McClanahan wrote eloquently and insightfully, in my opinion, about his opposition to the proposed mosque to be built two blocks from Ground Zero. (For the record, I’m against it, too.)
Lewis Diuguid, an editorial writer who calls letter writers to verify that they, indeed, penned the letters, called me on Monday and said he’d try to get the letter in.
Now, really, it makes no difference to me if the letter gets in. But I really would like to know what the public feedback is on McClanahan’s piece, and I don’t want to have to wait two weeks to get that feedback.
What really galled me was that yesterday a letter ran under the headline “Mosque at ground zero.” I eagerly went to the text, thinking it would be about McClanahan’s column. But, no, it was a letter from Chris Anderson of Basehor, who was writing about an Aug. 4 article titled “Mosque plans advance.” Anderson’s first line was “Where is the outrage over the project mosque by the World Trade Center?”
Well, the outrage certainly escalated between Aug. 4 and Aug. 18, didn’t it?
I guess the letters pertaining to McClanahan’s column are waiting in a queue…waiting like tax returns stacked up for processing by the IRS.
Yesterday, I e-mailed Miriam Pepper, vice president and editorial page editor of The Star, and told her about the results of my test and that I intended to write a blog entry on the subject.
Miriam, one of the most solid and respected editors at The Star, declined to comment, and I can appreciate that. She has nothing to gain by defending the status quo, and feelings could get ruffled in house if she said the page needs improvement.
Here’s the gist, though. The letters to the editor page is one of the most important parts of the paper. It’s where members of the public get to weigh in, in black and white, on issues that are of importance to them. It’s a garden of ideas, and it’s fun and informative to see what seeds are being planted and to try to figure out which might take root.
It’s important, then, that the letters be timely. In the computer era, people can get plenty of feedback on just about any issue, but millions of people still look to the letters page of their daily papers every day to gauge the ebb and flow of public opinion on current issues.
For the vast majority of serious current-events followers, I dare say, a letter published on the letters page of a daily paper, signed with a person’s real name and disclosing their city of residence, carries far more weight in the court of public opinion than an anonymous comment (or, for that matter, a signed comment) on any blog or Web site.
So, let’s get cracking down there, KC Star!